Chapter 2 Passenger Peril
By Bernard Doove © 2011
The first hint that anything was abnormal did not come from Anastasiya. In fact it came from the least likely source on the ship. Yote was in his office and had just completed the dayís paperwork. He turned the chair around and leaned back to relax while watching the stars streak past in the viewport. It was all an illusion of course. Even at top warp speed, stars simply did not go by that fast. In fact it was an artefact of hyperspace that was not really fully understood. There was some speculation that they were stellar objects in that plane of reality, although they didnít seem to show on scans other than purely visible light. No one had actually encountered Ė at least none that survived to tell about it. Nevertheless, they gave people the sense of moving fast, and they were pretty and relaxing to watch.
There was a knock behind him, followed by a voice that said, "Pardon me, Captain, but could I have a word with you?"
Yote swivelled around to see Penny standing in the doorway. He kept an open-door policy for all his crew as he wanted them to feel free to talk to him at any time. "Come in, Penny. Whatís bothering you?"
The mouse entered, and Yote could already see that the normally irrepressible girl was upset about something.
"Itís the passengers, sir Ė thereís something odd about them."
"Odd? In what way?"
"Well... normally they spend the first couple of days chatting, getting to know each other. Thereís not a whole lot to do besides watching vids or watching one of my little performances."
"And theyíre not this time?"
"Thatís just it Ė itís as if theyíre carefully avoiding unnecessary public contact. The passenger bookings suggest that they have nothing to do with each other, but I still have this odd feeling... I canít really put my finger on it."
Yote considered her words. "Itís only your third voyage Ė heck, itís only the fourth for many of us. There are plenty of circumstances that we havenít encountered yet. Weíll probably run across many unusual situations in the years to come. I think weíll just have to wait a while and see how things work out."
"Oh... okay." Despite accepting his words, Penny didnít move to leave.
"That isnít whatís really bothering you, is it? You can tell me, Penny."
"It... itís something a lot more personal," she said hesitantly.
"Iím prepared to listen if you really wish to tell me about it."
"Itís that teen canimorph Ė the one that came along with his father at the last moment. He recognised me."
Yote frowned. "How is that possible?"
"His father works as a security guard at the spaceport. The boy was visiting his father there on one of the days that my father dragged me along in the vain hope of getting me interested in his business. I was wearing a cheesy dress at the time, so I tried to persuade him that heíd gotten the wrong person, but he was adamant that he was certain that it was me. And Captain Ė he says that thereís a reward posted for information leading to finding me."
"Damn. So the guy wants to claim the reward. That will make things awkward when we get back to Earth."
"Itís worse than that, Captain. He wants to blackmail me."
"What?" Yote was outraged. "Iíll kick the bastard off the ship at the next port! Wait Ė what could he be blackmailing you for if not the reward money?"
The mouse remained unhappily silent.
Yote put two and two together and got even more pissed off. "Did you try telling him that youíre a lesbian?"
Penny nodded. "He said, ĎDoesnít matter to me. Youíre going to be my bitch for the rest of the trip, or else daddy gets a message for where to find his stray lamb.í He then left me to think about it. I think that heís confident that Iíll give in."
"I think that heís wrong. Why didnít you tell him flat out to go to hell?"
"I didnít want to cause you trouble with the passengers, or with my father if I did that," Penny said earnestly.
Yote got out from behind his desk and gathered Penny into an embrace. "Oh, Penny dear, Iíd rather take on a hundred such people than let any of my people come to harm. Youíre more than just crew to me, yíknow?"
Penny sniffled and nodded. She hugged Yote back and said, "Thanks, Captain."
"Now go back and give that guy your answer Ė preferably one that involves kicking him in the balls. Donít tell anyone that I told you to do that though. I suggest that you take Anastasiya along with you in case he doesnít like your answer and tries to cause more trouble."
Pennyís smile was returning. "Iíll do that, Captain." The mouse girl left with the bounce back in her step.
Yote sat back down at his desk and considered what Penny had told him. Despite his reassurances, he was a little perturbed by the news. In the few times that he had met them, the passengers had given him a vibe that he didnít like, but just as with Penny, he couldnít put his finger on it. Pennyís observations only added weight to that feeling. He would have to have a word with Anastasiya after shi dealt with dog boy.
Penny contacted Anastasiya and arranged to meet hir at hir office. There she explained the situation and the captainís recommendation.
Anastasiya nodded. "I will wait out of sight. If boy is smart and letís things lie, I will let the matter stay just between you two. If not smart, I will be there if you need me."
"Thanks. Heís usually in the passenger lounge. Letís get this over with," Penny said determinedly.
The German Shepherd morph was alone in the passenger lounge, playing a video game. He glanced up as Penny entered, and he grinned. "Finally realised that youíd better play things my way?" he asked as he paused the game and got up out of his chair.
"Oh yes, Iíve come to let you know my answer," Penny said as she reached up as if to embrace the boy. Instead of hugging him though, she pulled him in closer and kneed him in the groin as hard as she could.
With an anguished cry, the dog collapsed n the floor in agony.
"I hope that I made my position crystal clear," Penny said sweetly. "Donít harass me any more, understand?" Without bothering to wait for an answer, she turned and exited the lounge.
Unfortunately she did not see the boy struggle to his feet while grimacing in pain. He stumbled after the mouse and caught up to her while she was waiting for the trans-lift. He took her by surprise, grabbing her by her jumpsuit and spinning her around to face him. "Nobody does that to me, you bitch! Now learn your place!" he yelled hoarsely. He hauled back his fist to bash the terrified mouse, only to have it stopped in mid-swing. His arm was yanked painfully behind his back, and he was hoisted up until his toes lifted from the floor.
"So you like it rough, boy?" came Anastasiyaís growl. "I like it rough too, and I think Iíd like to play with you for a while. Do you like that idea, boy? Are you man enough for me?"
The dog knew who and what Anastasiya was, and he went cold with fear. "No!" he gasped.
"Pity Ė you could have been such fun. If you donít like it so much, why are you bothering my friend, Penny? I donít like it when my friends get hurt. I like to hurt people who hurt my friends."
"Pl... please, donít," he begged as Anastasiyaís grip tightened and hir claws dug in to emphasise hir words.
"Foolish child," Anastasiya said contemptuously, releasing the painful grip that shi had on him.
He collapsed on the floor, only to be hauled back up to his feet by his shirt. The tiger then shoved him into the waiting trans-lift, saying, "I have good room waiting for you. Shipís brig is nice and clean and never been used."
The tiger came by Yoteís office to report the incident, leaving nothing out.
Yote thanked Anastasiya for hir good work, and then added, "Iím going to throw the bastard off the ship at Elantra. I donít care that itís a small colony that hardly gets any passing traffic Ė itíll be his problem to find his way to his destination, or back home. I just want him off our ship as soon as possible. Better inform his father, of course."
"I will make arrangements," Anastasiya assured him.
Yote wasnít surprised to see the adult German Shepherd barging into his office shortly thereafter.
"What the hell do you think youíre doing to my son?" the dog yelled without preamble.
Yote noted that he was a rough-looking character with a torn ear. Although none of the passengers who chose to travel on a tramp vessel like the Phoenix had much money, this personís dress was a distinct notch below the norm, and he was coming across as a homeless bum rather than a thrifty traveller.
"Your son sexually assaulted one of my crew, Mr Shepherd," Yote said coldly. "He has been put under arrest and will remain in the brig until I deliver him to the authorities at Elantra."
"You canít do that! He has to come with me to the Landrau colony."
"I am the ultimate authority on this ship, Mr Shepherd. I can and have the right to eject any undesirables. Your son will not be going to the Landrau colony with you."
"You canít do that! Heís got a ticket through to the Landrau colony. Youíre obligated to take him there. Iíll sue you if you donít!"
"You should have read your copy of the rules and conditions, Mr Shepherd. You havenít a legal leg to stand on. However, if you donít wish to be parted with your son, I will quite gladly put you off at Elantra also." Yote already had just about enough of this obnoxious morph.
"What? This is outrageous! Iím warning you, Captain Ė donít cross with me!" The dog leaned over the desk with his teeth bared in a snarl.
"And Iím warning you, Mr Shepherd, that I wonít tolerate any misbehaviour on my ship. You are on the brink of joining your son at this rate."
"Donít lecture me, you smug coyote! Iíve had to deal with your kind before Ė you and your arrogance. Think youíre better than me?" He started poking Yote in the chest quite forcefully. "Iím onto you. Youíre just another stuck-up son of a bitch to me, and if you donít let my son out of the brig right now, Iím gonna make you regret the day you were whelped!"
Yote had taken all that he was going to. "Anastasiya, would you take Mr Shepherd to see his son and acquaint him with the facilities there?"
"With pleasure, Captain." The tiger grabbed Shepherdís shoulder in a vicelike grip.
Shepherd winced in pain, but as he was dragged off, he defiantly yelled, "Youíre going to regret this, you bastard! And sooner than you think!" He was hauled out of sight, but his ranting continued. "And I wonít be forgetting you either, you cock-bitch freak. Arrgh!"
Yote smirked. Somehow he felt that Anastasiya hadnít appreciated Shepherdís comment. He hoped that shi didnít get too rough with the fool. He didnít want to be explaining too much to the Elantra authorities.
With eight days to go before they reached the Elantra colony, Yote was glad that everything seemed to settle down to normalcy. The passengers still seemed unusually stand-offish, but nobody gave them trouble like the Shepherds did. He reviewed the passenger list Ė five morphs, two Voxxans and a human Ė all bound for the Landrau colony on business of some kind. Only the human had booked onwards to their next port of call, another colony world, and then to Voxxa. The others would have to wait until another ship came along eventually to either go back home or to another destination. The Landrau colony did not have regular shipping as yet, and starships like Phoenix which were contracted by the Star Corps to supply them, were almost the only means of getting to and from the world. If the passengers had done their homework though, their stay might be a minimal one if another starship from another planet arrived soon after Phoenix. That was their problem though.
Seven days passed without incident. When they were still twelve hours out from Elantra, Yote took himself off the bridge, leaving Ceres on watch with Baxter at the helm. He headed off to the mess hall to see what Hotfoot had available for supper before he retired for the Ďnightí. As he exited the bridge into the passageway to the trans-lift, he came across an odd sight. Neríritn was patiently feeding a cable from a reel into an open service conduit. The cable appeared to be being pulled by something unseen.
"What are you up to at this time?" Yote enquired curiously of the Caitian girl.
"Oh, hi Captain. Iím helping Momma M'Nissaítk replace a faulty sensor cable," Neríritn replied without halting the careful feeding.
"Well, itís a sure bet that your mother isnít in that tiny passage, so howís it being pulled through?"
"Menalippe is in the conduit. Mom was cursing the narrow service ducts when she walked by and volunteered to help."
Yote nodded. "Makes sense Ė sheís the smallest of any of us, and very flexible. You should get the job done in half the time."
"Thatís the idea."
"OK, carry on, but donít make it too late. Itís your bedtime, I know. As for me, my stomach is reminding me that itís time for me to eat. Good night, Neríritn."
Yote continued onto the mess hall where he found that Hotfoot had been forewarned that he was on his way, and shi had a meal served up and ready for him. The two Voxxan passengers were there also. One looked up at Yote, nodded in curt greeting, and then turned his attention back to his food. Yote was about halfway through his meal when that Voxxan got up from his table and walked over to Yoteís.
"I believe that you have two passengers in the brig?" he asked without preamble.
Yote glanced up. "Mr Kavenak, isnít it? Yes, I do. Is that a problem?"
"Yes it is, Captain. I would like it if you would release them immediately, please."
"Sorry, but that isnít going to happen until we reach Elantra."
"Iím afraid that I am going to have to insist."
Yote suddenly found himself staring at the business end of a weapon. It was a curiously makeshift-looking device, but Yote was instantly sure that it was nonetheless effective. He noticed that the other Voxxan had gotten up and pulled out a similar weapon, and moved to cover the entrance to the galley. There would be no heroics coming from Hotfoot. He glared up at Kavenak. "How did you get those aboard my ship?" All people passing through the spaceport were automatically scanned for weapons, but most starships did their own additional scans for full security. Yote had no reason to believe that Anastasiya had lapsed in hir thoroughness.
"Thatís not important. What is important is releasing your two prisoners and forgetting about leaving them on Elantra."
"Why are they so important to you?"
"Stop asking questions and get up. Weíre going to the brig now, and youíre going to behave yourself or else. Hand over your comm and donít try any tricks. Revendi, bring along the chakat."
Hotfoot was very upset at being rousted from hir kitchen at gunpoint. The fact that shi was obviously being used to ensure Yoteís good behaviour disturbed both of them. They left the mess hall and headed for the trans-lift. They called a car, and moments later they were herded inside and headed up a few decks into parts of the ship that were out of bounds to the passengers. Biometric controls normally kept them out but allowed the crew to have easy access. Unfortunately it also let in anyone who was with the crew.
Anastasiyaís office was next to the brig, of course. Yote hoped that the tiger had retired for the night, but it was not to be. Shi was sitting at hir desk, working on something, but as soon as Yote entered, shi turned hir attention to him. Shi immediately sensed something was wrong and threw hirself out of hir chair in an effort to take Kavenak by surprise... and amazingly succeeded. One powerful hand pushed his weapon aside as the other went to deal him an incapacitating blow. Unfortunately shi had not yet seen his companion. Revendiís weapon hummed and Anastasiya screamed and dropped like a sack of potatoes.
"Anastasiya!" Yote cried out, bending over the tiger to check hir out.
"Leave hir!" commanded Kavenak. "Shiís just stunned. Now release Shepherd or I will shoot hir again. That will be enough to stop hir heart."
Yote glared at the Voxxan, but did as he was told. He led them into an adjacent room which had three cells. Father and son Shepherd had been given the luxury of a cell each. Yote went to the control panel and released the electronic locks on both.
The adult dog rushed out of his cell and gave Yote a roundhouse punch to the face. Yote was knocked to the floor, dizzy and in pain from the huge blow. "Thatís for locking me up, you son of bitch!" Then he turned to Kavenak. "What the hell took you so long to free me?"
"Shut up!" Kavenak snarled. "You got yourself into this mess. You and your idiot son have nearly ruined our plans. If we didnít need to keep this out of the authoritiesí view, I would have cheerfully left you to your fate. Now try to be of some use and lock this chakat up. The tiger is unconscious in the next room. Drag hir into a cell also before shi comes to. Captain Ė youíre coming with me."
Yote had no choice Ė the nerve-shock from the heavy-duty stunner at his back was just as capable of killing also, as Kavenak had threatened to do to Anastasiya. As they headed out, he noticed Revendi at the controls of the security systems, and he suspected that the Voxxan was disabling many of the measures that prevented their free movement, such as the trans-lift and compartment locks. As they continued out towards the trans-lift, he asked, "What do you intend to do with us?" He didnít really expect a reply, but he got one anyway.
"For now, you will all get to enjoy the comforts of your cells. When we get to Elantra, we will need you to reassure the authorities that everything is okay. Then you will proceed to Landrau as planned."
"Weíve got cargo to unload there, What about that? If we donít, it will look very suspicious."
"Youíll unload that too, and youíll even have some help."
"Help? How so?"
Just then the trans-lift arrived and the doors opened. One of the other passengers, a European lynx morph, was inside and also brandishing a stunner, which was pointed at Penny and M'Resk.
Kavenak stood aside to let the others out. "The brig is ready for those two, Anders," he told the lynx. "Hurry back Ė we need to round up the entire crew before someone can raise the alarm."
"Right," the lynx replied, and they headed off while Kavenak and Yote entered the trans-lift.
Penny and M'Resk arrived at the brig just as the two Shepherds had finished dragging Anastasiya into a cell. The younger grinned nastily when he saw Penny and grabbed her arm.
"I told you that youíll be my bitch, Now Iím going to make up for lost time. OW!" His father had backhanded him on the muzzle, and his eyes watered from the pain.
"Canít you keep your cock in your pants for even five minutes? Iím sorry I let you talk me into bringing you along. If it wasnít for you, we wouldnít be in this clusterfuck right now. Put her in the cells with the others!"
The younger Shepherd glared hatefully at his father, but did as he was told.
"Stay here and help put the prisoners in the cells when theyíre brought in," the elder Shepherd ordered. "Iím going back to join the others."
Meanwhile Yote and the two Voxxans had reached the bridge. The extra security there could not be overridden from Anastasiyaís desk, so Yote was needed to access it. The coyote had been trying to think of a way out of their predicament without success, and he was distressed that he was being forced to put the rest of his crew in danger also.
Ceres was surprised to see Yote return. "Is there a problem, Captain? Why are these passengers on the bridge?"
"Yes, thereís a problem, Ceres, and they are it. Yote indicated the weapons that now covered the foxtaur and human too.
Kavenak said, "Donít try anything stupid, and no one will get hurt. Captain, I want you to disable all the security systems and release the controls to us. Iím familiar with the procedures, so donít try any tricks. Try to send out a warning to your crew and I will kill you, and then get the Starwalker to do it instead."
Yote had no choice but to take that statement at face value, and he reluctantly did as he was told, knowing that it would leave the entire crew vulnerable and helpless. "Itís done."
Kavenak activated his wrist-comm. "Kavenak here Ė all the security has been disabled. Take over Engineering and round up the remainder of the crew." He turned his attention back to the others. "Put everything onto full automatic. You wonít be needed here until just before we get to Elantra. Everyone off the bridge now!"
They were herded back to the brig where they found R'Murran and Presaith already incarcerated. They looked questioningly at Yote who could only shrug helplessly. He presumed that the hijackers must have been waiting outside of Engineering for the word to be given in order for them to have been rounded up so quickly. He was immensely relieved though to see that Anastasiya had recovered consciousness, although shi seemed to be nursing a huge headache.
Gradually the rest of the crew and all the children were being rounded up and crammed in the cells with the rest. The hijackers swept the ship deck by deck, rousting some of the shipís complement from their beds. Zelkie, Burningbright and all the chakat cubs came in all at once with three people covering them with their weapons. Zelkie had a grim look on hir face and was carrying an unconscious Candycane on hir back. When the villains had left Yote was able to ask what had happened.
"They caught us totally by surprise, Captain," Zelkie explained. "We were all asleep in our common room when suddenly those three were in our room and trying to wake us up."
Yote knew how deeply chakats slept once they settled down, so it was unsurprising that they had had a hard time rousing them.
Zelkie continued, "The wolf decided to Ďencourageí me by pistol-whipping me," shi said as shi touched hir fingers to a bright red stain on the fur on hir forehead. "Between being too dizzy from the blow, and with too many guns pointed at the cubs, I wasnít able to fight back."
"What happened to Candycane?"
"Shi attacked the wolf after he hit me. Shi was knocked unconscious for hir effort. I couldnít protect hir," Zelkie said bitterly.
"Itís okay, Zelkie. No one is blaming you. If you want to blame anyone, blame me. I disabled all the security, including the locks on your cabins."
"Why did you... no... you had a gun pointed at you too. I canít blame you for that, Captain."
"But I will take responsibility for it. But all is not lost. We just need to bide our time for now."
"Not much else we can do."
Next to arrive were Risha along with the Caitian children Ė Keera and Kannekin. Risha looked dishevelled and seriously pissed-off Ė the angriest Yote had ever seen the usually placid cougar. Keera wasnít happy, but she was relatively calm. Young Kannekin though was really upset, and he was sniffling and generally not listening too well to what their captors were telling them to do. The wolf bellowed in anger and shoved Kannekin towards the cells. He stumbled, fell hard, and started bawling, tears flooding his eyes.
There was a scream of rage from the cougar, and she leapt upon the wolf, heedless of the weapons trained upon her. Caught unawares, the lynx didnít bring his weapon to bear upon her until too late, and she had the wolf between them as a shield. She grabbed both of the wolfís wrists in two of her hands, restraining them while the other two rained blows on his face and abdomen. Her claws opened long gashes in his fur before the lynx was able to get around and shoot her. Risha yowled in agony for a brief moment and then collapsed. The wolf swayed on his feet, almost joining Risha on the floor. One eye was already swollen shut, and blood matted his fur in a couple of places.
The lynx cursed, unlocked the least crowded cell, and then stepped back a safe distance. "Get her and those kids into your cell Ė now!"
M'Nissaítk, who was already in that cell, came out to gather up Kannekin, while Ceres and Baxter gathered up the unconscious cougar.
The lynx reactivated the lock and then took the time to examine the wolf. "Shit, Marko Ė youíre a mess!"
The wolf growled and seemed to be recovering. He pushed the lynx away. "Iíll be okay, Anders. Just let me at that cunt!"
Anders restrained Marko. "Donít! Kavenakís running this show, and he says that they stay unharmed."
The wolf snarled, but relented. However, as he turned to leave, he said, "I will get payback later though."
Eventually the cells were filled with the remainder of the crew, plus their one human passenger who was complaining bitterly about his mistreatment. Yote murmured to Burningbright who was in the cell with him, "íBright, can you do a scan of that man? I need to know if heís genuinely a prisoner like us, or if heís a plant here to keep an eye on us."
Burningbright nodded and Yote addressed the man. "Mr Davies, are you alright?"
"Yeah, sure I am. Being dragged out of bed at gunpoint is the highlight of my trip."
Ignoring his sarcastic comment, Yote looked at Burningbright questioningly. The chakat gave him the thumbs-up sign. Satisfied with hir verdict, Yote said, "Weíre not too thrilled about it either, but hang in there, and weíll try to get you through this unscathed."
"Big promises from a guy behind bars," scoffed Shepherd Senior who had brought in the man and had paused to gloat.
"That reminds me," Yote said, turning his attention to the dog. "Kavenak never did explain how you got those weapons on board my ship." He was not sure if the dog would answer either, but it did not hurt to try fishing for information.
Shepherd looked smugly proud. "Theyíre my invention. I used my knowledge of security scanners to create them. They came aboard in pieces which, when scanned, resembled other harmless items. The focusing crystals were encased in a scan-absorbent substance that masqueraded as packing material. The batteries were uncharged so that your scanners could not sense the high energy potential. All we had to do was bring the parts together, assemble them, and then charge them up. Piece of cake, really," he boasted.
Yote knew that fooling the sensors was not quite that easy, and yet this person had achieved it. He had to admire that skill even as he made a mental note to upgrade the scanners... if they lived through this. The dogís willingness to talk did not bode well for the crewís future Ė they knew too much.
"Enjoy your stay in the brig," Shepherd smirked. "If I remember, I might even bring you something to eat later." The dog then walked out, presumably to rejoin his fellow conspirators.
Yote was glad that the canine morph did not hang about. "Itís about time we got left alone. Now we can start fighting back."
Davies stared in disbelief at Yote. "Fight back? Weíre all locked up Ė what the hell do you think we can do from in here?"
"More than you think, but first Ė does anyone know where Menalippe is?"
M'Nissaítk replied, "If sheís smart, sheís still hiding in that service duct. Iím afraid I quite rudely slammed the cover down in her face when I realised what was happening. Hopefully sheís figured out whatís going on and stays safe."
Yote nodded. "Good. Now I know where everyone is, I can act more confidently. Once we get our comms back, we might be able to use her, seeing as our captors donít seem to be aware that sheís on the crew."
"Menalippe has been working second shift with me, so I donít think sheís met any of the passengers yet," explained Baxter. "Iím glad sheís safe, and I hope that what you have in mind wonít change that, Captain."
"Donít worry, Heywood, I plan to bring us all through unharmed. First priority Ė getting out of here. Zelkie Ė can you deactivate the cell locks?"
"Yes, Captain, if someone tells me what switch to hit."
Anastasiya said, "Look at panel that I am pointing at Ė see row of blue-lit buttons? Depress and hold any of those for two seconds."
As Yote and the others watched, all three buttons were depressed telekinetically, and after two seconds, they turned red and the cell doors opened.
"Told you we need biometric switches," Anastasiya commented as they eagerly exited the cells.
"But arenít you glad that they werenít in the budget?" Yote asked with a grin.
"Am glad that they didnít know Zelkie is a K5 Talent, or else they would have used disabler."
"True, but letís count our blessings. Everyone grab your comms." Yote picked up his from the pile on Anastasiyaís desk where they had all been dumped. "Right now we have the advantage of surprise. We know exactly how many there are Ė seven including Shepherdís idiot son. Iím presuming that they have at least two or three competent spacers amongst them, as they couldnít count on us to cooperate with absolute certainty, so there are probably two on the bridge, and at least one down in Engineering.
"That still leaves two or three unaccounted for," Ceres pointed out.
"Not for long." Anastasiya keyed in a command into hir security system. The screens lit up with data and images. "Voxxan named Revendi and horse morph on bridge. Lynx in Engineering. Kavenak and wolf in Cargo Bay One. Two curs in recreation room."
"Shepherd has probably done his bit," Yote speculated. "Now heís just extra muscle when needed."
"Why are those two in the cargo bay?" M'Nissaítk asked. "Theyíve hijacked the whole ship, so why bother?"
"Probably because they know about our special consignment which is located there," Valentina guessed.
"íTina..." Anastasiya began warningly.
Yote held up his hand. "Itís okay. Theyíve gone to far too much trouble to hijack a ship that would only give them a modest return for their efforts, which implies that they know that we have something of rare value aboard, and if they know, you might as well know also."
"Youíre talking about that secret consignment that Valentina wouldnít talk about, arenít you?" Zelkie guessed.
"Yes, and judging by how our pirate friends are homing in on the secure store, Iíd say that the guess is confirmed. Theyíre after the mind-matrix generator."
"The what?" Danson asked in confusion.
"Itís what makes a Transporter more than an oversized replicator. Without it, you cannot send any person through it because theyíd come out mindless at the other end. Itís the Federationís most closely guarded secret. Places like the League of Non-Aligned Worlds reverse-engineered replicators long ago, but the creation of the mind-matrix generator was a major leap in science Ė literally a stroke of genius that has never been duplicated. The strategic value of the Transporter is enormous, and the knowledge of how to create one of those generators is fanatically guarded. The units themselves are sealed in such a way that any attempt to scan or tamper whatsoever will cause them to self-destruct into an unrecognisable mess. A working unit is worth a kingís ransom to certain people."
"But I thought that pirates already have transporters?" M'Nissaítk asked.
"Some do Ė ripped from their victimsí ships. However, the matrix generators have a limited lifespan. After a set period, they become inactive. Legitimate operators can get theirs replaced; pirates end up with a big paperweight. The Landrau colony, which is where our unit is destined for, has to get in a special tech just to activate this one. He travels separately from the unit for security purposes though."
"If it needs to be activated, then what good is this unit to them?" Risha asked.
"Is simple," Anastasiya answered. "If they found out about shipment despite security, is most likely they know how to activate one, or arranging capture of tech also."
Yote nodded in agreement. "Indeed Ė thereís no such thing as a perfect secret, although Federation safeguards are incredibly complex. Anyway, enough talk Ė it looks like Kavenak has discovered that they canít get into the secure store. That means that they will be coming back to get me to open it up for them. Anastasiya Ė letís prepare a little surprise for them."
"Already on it, Captain," Anastasiya replied as shi keyed the biometric sensor on the weapons locker. Shi passed out phasers to Yote, Oakwood, Valentina, Ceres, and M'Nissaítk.
"What about us?" Hotfoot asked when it became apparent that no more phasers were forthcoming.
"You have licence or Star Fleet training?" the tiger enquired. When it became apparent that none of the rest did, shi continued, "I think that is something we must rectify in future. Meanwhile, you can have stunners, but only as a last resort to use." Shi handed over the defensive weapons to those who wanted them.
"Okay Ė listen up!" Yote commanded. "I want everyone back in their cells except Anastasiya. Close the doors to make them look like they are locked. When those two get here, theyíll be looking for me, so they shouldnít notice Anastasiyaís absence until too late. Shi will conceal hirself and come up behind them when they enter the brig, and then take them out. Those of you with weapons, keep them concealed and donít use them unless something goes wrong. Now hustle! Theyíll be here shortly."
Everyone hastened back to their cells and closed the doors. Yote placed himself at the front in full view so that the hijackers wouldnít start looking around. In the end their trap was almost undone due to the indicator lamps on the door lock buttons still glowing red, but the wolf who noticed that, hesitated for just long enough for Anastasiya to silently come out of hiding from behind hir desk, and shoot them without warning.
"Are they dead?" Loander asked as they emerged from their cells once again.
"No Ė heavy stun setting only. Killing is too good for these." Anastasiya kicked the Voxxan contemptuously. "Hope they enjoy headache it gives them as much as I am enjoying mine."
"Search them and remove everything on them, then lock them in a cell," Yote ordered. "Weíve got four more to capture, and the rest arenít likely to be so obliging as to walk into the same trap. Any ideas?"
"I know how to get the dogs," Penny spoke up. "All we need is a little distraction."
"Go on," Yote encouraged.
The sound of the door opening immediately drew both sets of Shepherdsí eyes. Abruptly, Penny was shoved through it and the girl stumbled and nearly fell. She turned and yelled at the unseen shovers, "Thereís no need to be so rough, you bastards!" Then she turned, spotted the dogs, and froze. "Oh, shit."
Shepherd Junior grinned. "Looks like Iíve finally been given my toy, hey Dad?"
Shepherd Senior gave a bark of laughter. "Yeah, and nowís the time to play while you have the chance."
As the youth approached the mouse, Penny stepped back and shrunk up against the wall, and then tried to move away from him, but was soon backed into a corner.
"I told you that you were going to be my bitch, girl. Iím gonna make you regret the trouble youíve given me."
The father watched in amusement. He knew his sonís tastes Ė they werenít so different from his own. With his eyes on the two though, he did not notice his weapon lift from the table next to him and silently fly across the room into the hand of a chakat. He did notice when his sonís fist suddenly froze in mid-swing.
"Dad! Somethingís grabbed me. I canít move!"
Penny stopped cringing and suddenly smiled. "Donít worry, youíll have other things to worry about. Here Ė let me remind you." She then kneed him in the balls, and then did it a second time for good measure before Zelkie allowed him to drop to the floor, weeping tears of agony.
Shepherd Senior had not been idle. He had grabbed for his weapon, only to find it missing. He whirled around and found himself staring at the emitter of the phaser held by Anastasiya.
"Hello, doggie. Want to play? No? Please do something stupid. You are pathetically easy to catch."
The tigerís taunts goaded the dog morph into action, and he leapt at Anastasiya, who pistol-whipped him as shi effortlessly dodged his attack. Shepherd crashed to the floor, but started struggling to his feet again. The tiger shot him using the heavy stun setting, and he collapsed unconscious.
"Very obliging doggie," Anastasiya said happily. Shi went over to Shepherd Junior and nudged him roughly with hir foot. "Want to play too, pup?"
"N-no," he grated out between clenched teeth.
"Pity," shi lamented, and then knocked him unconscious also.
After stripping the Shepherds of everything, they locked them in the next empty cell.
Yote smiled. "Well done, everyone. Penny Ė you were incredibly brave to play bait like that."
"My pleasure, Captain. Really!" She had genuinely enjoyed getting the better of the young dog and his father.
Zelkie added, "And Iím pleased to not have weapons pointed at my crewmates so that I could use my Talent safely.
"It was probably a good thing that you didnít dare use telekinesis when you were captured," Yote opined. "If you had, they might have been chasing you around the ship while the rest of us remained locked up, or you might still have been captured and rendered helpless. Either way, we would not now be in a position to fight back."
"Good point," Zelkie admitted.
"Okay, people, listen up. This is going to be the tricky bit. The bridge is going to be a lot more difficult to retake safely, and time is against us. Sooner or later, these four are going to be missed, so what I want you to do...."
"Revendi to Kavenak Ė whatís taking you so long?" came from Kavenakís confiscated comm.
Yote groaned. There went that plan.
"Kavenak! Answer me!" ... ... "Marko, are you there? Where are you and Kavenak?" ... ... "Shepherd, report! Have you seen Kavenak or Marko?"
Yote shut down all the comms and sighed. "One unanswered comm they might put down to equipment failure, but several will ring alarm bells. Any bets that they havenít sealed off the bridge yet?"
"Is sucker bet," Anastasiya said from behind hir desk console. "Bridge has gone into security lockdown."
"Any suggestions anyone?" Yote asked.
"I have an idea of how to get the drop on them once Iím on the bridge," Ceres offered. "Of course, first we need to get that door open."
"Which is designed specifically not to be opened during lockdown," Bethany added.
The crew were quiet for several moments while they tried to think of alternatives. Then the silence was broken by a very soft voice whispering from Yoteís comm.
"Menalippe to Captain Yote. Can you hear me, Captain?"
"Menaís okay!" Baxter shouted with relief, and the others made happy responses also.
"Sshhh! Quiet! If Menalippe needs to whisper, you might be heard when I reply." Everybody immediately quietened, and Yote hit the reply button to quietly reply, "Iím here, Menalippe. Are you safe?"
"Thank heavens, Captain! Iím safe for now. When I overheard the Voxxan tell the horse that he thought something had happened to his partners, and you might have escaped, I took the chance of trying to contact you."
"We did escape, and weíve captured four of them. That just leaves the two on the bridge. Wait! You said that you overheard them. Where are you?"
"Iím still in the service ducts. I crawled up to the bridge to see if I could do anything, and I saw Heywood and Ceres being captured. Iíve been waiting here ever since."
"Stand by, Menalippe. I might have something important for you to do."
"Okay, Captain. Standing by."
Yote looked over to Ceres. "You said that you had an idea how to get those two on the bridge?"
Ceres nodded. "Thereís one thing that isnít locked down, and thatís the artificial gravity. If that could be shut down, thereís no way that either of them could keep up with me long enough to shoot me, let alone catch me. All you need to do is get the bridge doors open the moment that the gravity plates are turned off, and I can bounce around inside and pick them off."
Yote shook his head. "Too dangerous. Iíve seen you practice your zero gee manoeuvres, and youíre pretty amazing, but the bridge isnít that big, and you still have to get through the door first. Thereís such a thing as a lucky shot too."
"Thatís possible," Ceres conceded, "but Iíll come in high, and those two will be aiming for normal level, and besides, while Iím doing that and distracting them, Zelkie can hold one of them and Anastasiya can come in low. Remember that weíll have the advantage of surprise because they wonít be expecting an attack... if we can get that door open, of course."
Yote asked, "Zelkie, can you telekinetically hold both of them?"
Zelkie gave an apologetic shrug. "Sorry, Captain, but itís hard holding just one. I might be able to try holding both, but I also might end up losing control of both. Iíd rather concentrate on one."
Yote considered the suggestions and knew that there were still risks, but he didnít exactly have a lot of alternatives. "Okay, weíll do that. I just hope that those nerve stunners are the only weapons that they have. Itíll take at least two hits from them to be fatal." He tapped his comm. "Menalippe Ė the duct that youíre in Ė it comes out under the console near the door, doesnít it?"
"Is it possible for you to remove the access panel quietly enough to slip onto the bridge and hit the door override button without being seen?"
"I.. I think so, sir."
"Captain! Thatís too big a risk for her to take!" Baxter objected.
"Iím sorry, Heywood, but if we donít regain control of this ship, all our lives may be at risk. Menalippe is our best, and perhaps only hope of getting onto the bridge in time."
Baxter wanted to argue further, but without a reasonable alternative to suggest, he shut up.
"Menalippe, weíre going to take positions outside the door. When youíre ready, give me the word. Then Iíll give you three seconds to get out and hit the switch. Weíll be shutting off the gravity then, so make sure that you dive clear of the doorway."
"I understand. Iím going to need a few minutes to get the access panel off without being heard."
"Right. Signal us when youíre ready." Yote switched off the comm. "R'Murran... where is he?"
Loander said, "He and Presaith have gone to Engineering already. Theyíll be able to switch off the gravity plates from there."
"Of course. Ceres, Zelkie and Anastasiya Ė letís go."
"Iím coming too," Baxter said firmly.
Yote could not deny the man, so they all headed for the trans-lift. When they got to the bridge level, they emerged into a corridor illuminated by red flashing lights indicating emergency lockdown. They walked past the captainís ready room and the conference room, up to the sealed bridge door. The word ĎLOCKEDí glowed next to the door controls. Anastasiya and Zelkie took up positions on either side of the door.
Ceres said, "Captain Ė Iím going to need something to push off against when the gravity goes. Thereís no wall or anything to brace against facing the door. Iím going to need your help and Heywoodís."
"What do you want us to do?"
"Squat on the floor with your back to the door. Heywood Ė you squat behind the captain and brace yourself against him. Iíll put my hind paws against your back and shove off hard. Your combined inertia will give me enough to work with, and by squatting, you will be far less of a target if things go wrong."
They got into position and Yote turned on his comm. "R'Murran Ė are you ready to turn off gravity on the bridge level?"
"Just give the word, Captain."
"Stand by." He tapped the comm again. "Menalippe Ė weíre ready. Whatís your status?"
The little ferret morph was scared stiff. She was feeling cramped in the narrow tunnel. It had never been intended for anyone to move through it Ė not even lithe mustelids. Trying to remove the panel in those confined conditions was not only difficult, but every little noise she made, sounded very loud within the duct, and she was terrified of being caught at any moment. With a final creak, the access panel popped off. She barely managed to stop it from clattering to the floor. After a moment to confirm that the two hijackers had not noticed, she replied to Yote.
"Iím ready, Captain," she whispered.
"Right. Three seconds Ė go!"
Menalippe slid out of the shaft as quickly as possible and stood up... and stared right into the eyes of the horse morph who gave a startled oath. Menalippe gave out a frightened squeak, but remembered to lunge for the door controls. She slapped the door lock and then attempted to dive for cover. Because she had caught them by surprise though, they were a fraction slow to react, and she was safely out of harmís way when the doors opened. A moment later, the gravity shut down, throwing off the horseís aim. The Voxxan had recovered quickly, but was still unprepared for the Starwalker foxtaur shooting through the doorway and over their heads. Between Ceres and Menalippe, the distraction was enough to cause them to overlook the others for a critical moment. The horseís weapon was suddenly ripped from his grasp and he froze. Then he collapsed as a phaser shot followed. Meanwhile the Voxxan tried to track Ceres but, lacking an anchor, futilely swivelled in the air. The foxtaur bounced off a couple of bulkheads, completely at home with the weightlessness, and calmly shot him a moment after his colleague.
"Clear!" Anastasiya called from the doorway.
Baxter shot onto the bridge, desperately looking for Menalippe. He spotted her helplessly squirming in the air near the ceiling. "Mena! Are you alright?" He manoeuvred to reach her.
"I donít feel so good, Heywood."
"Oh no! Where did they get you?" he asked solicitously as he reached her and drew her into his arms.
"They didnít hurt me, but could you please turn the gravity back on. I think Iím about to puke."
Heywood laughed in relief, and shoved off the ceiling to get them back to the floor. He grabbed a handhold and called out, "Captain Ė could you re-establish artificial gravity before Mena succumbs to space-sickness!"
A few seconds later, the gravity plates switched back on. All the crew were braced for the return of their weight, but they allowed the hijackers to crash to the floor unimpeded.
Yote walked over to the couple and gave the ferret a quick hug. "Youíre a hero, Menalippe. I donít know if we could have done this without you."
Ceres, Zelkie and Anastasiya also came over to add to their congratulations. Menalippe was still feeling queasy, but she smiled and felt a little embarrassed for all the attention.
Yote said, "Anastasiya, could you please clear the trash from my bridge."
"Delighted to be obliging, Captain. Ceres Ė would you please to be assisting me?"
Yote sunk into his captainís chair with a sigh of relief. He keyed the shipís P.A. system. "This is the captain speaking. The ship is now completely back under our control. My thanks to everyone, especially Zelkie and Menalippe, without whom weíd still be in deep trouble. Second watch Ė please report to your stations. All others Ė I suggest that you get some rest. We reach Elantra tomorrow."
Yote shut off the P.A. and then keyed a private link. "Yote to M'Resk."
"M'Resk here, Captain."
"Could you please make sure that our one legitimate passenger is placated. Offer him something special from our private stores. I want him to leave Phoenix with a good impression of what our crew will do in the face of adversity."
"Will do, Captain."
Yote leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to force himself to relax. A minute later he heard Bethany say, "I relieve you, Captain. Please go to bed."
"Itís not your watch, Commander," Yote replied. He looked about. "Whereís Heywood?"
"Mr Baxter is currently comforting his mate. Considering the risk that Menalippe took, I think that we can excuse him for a while. I will take his watch until heís free."
"Fair enough. Ceres should be back shortly. The bridge is yours, Commander."
Yote was only halfway back to his room when the weight of fatigue hit; the stress of the incident finally catching up to him. Back in his cabin, he started undressing, only to be interrupted by the door chime. Not unexpectedly, he found Risha waiting outside the door. He waved her in and closed the door. The four-armed cougaress immediately embraced Yote, leaning her head against his shoulder. He could feel her shaking Ė coming down from the tense situation was affecting her too.
"I saw how you defended Kannekin. I think that youíre going to be a great mother someday."
"Thank you, Martin," she responded. After a momentís silence, she continued, "Would you like to be the father of that child?"
Yote was surprised Ė she had never hinted at anything more to their relationship than the casual sex and comforting company in bed. "Er... I donít even know if weíre genetically compatible."
"Thatís not what I meant. I would be pleased if the father of my future children was like you."
"I see. In that case, I would be honoured to be chosen to be the father of your children."
"Thank you." She let go of him and started undressing.
Yote continued disrobing also, and they climbed into his bed.
"Just hold me tonight, please," Risha requested. "I feel safe in your arms."
Yote was not in the mood for sex either, but he was happy to hold the sexy cougar while they both drifted off to sleep.
The worst part of dealing with the hijackers turned out to be dealing with the Elantra bureaucracy. Yote spent many hours writing reports, answering questions, and dealing with the endless hassle of the unending stream of petty details that the situation demanded. And when one department finished with him, another came along and started asking for all the same things again. For the third time, he gave them his thoughts on the matter.
"Iím fairly certain that they had originally intended to take control of the ship between here and the Landrau colony. My intention to turn the Shepherds over to the authorities here would have stirred up too much unwanted attention to them, with the risk of their plans being leaked, or even balked, so they moved up their timetable. They probably only kept me and others alive so that we could help them get through your bureaucracy without suspicion, keeping the rest alive as hostages to ensure our good behaviour. If their original plans had gone ahead, Iím betting that we would have been unlikely to survive the takeover, unless they decided to take us as slaves, of course."
"And your cargo was really that valuable that it was worth going to so much effort just to hijack your small ship?" the man asked sceptically.
"You have no idea," Yote said fervently. Ships the size of mine specialise in high-value consignments rather than bulk goods."
"And you still wonít reveal the nature of the particular item that they were after?"
"Not until after it has been delivered Ė thatís the terms of the contract. The information will be provided to you immediately after that Ė well before those hijackers come up for trial."
"Very well, Mr Yote. I will follow that up in due course. That will be all for now." The interviewer turned off his PADD.
"Thank the stars!" Yote murmured, getting up from his chair. He left the office and found both Bethany and Risha waiting for him. "Youíre still here?" he asked with a grin. "I thought that you would have given up on me ages ago."
"They kept us long enough with giving statements that we thought that we might as well wait," Bethany explained.
"Well, Iím grateful that you waited anyway. I declare that we are now officially on shore leave for R&R. How would you ladies like to go to Elantra Portís swankiest restaurant Ė my treat?"
Risha smiled broadly. "Iíd love it!"
Yote arched an eyebrow at Bethany. "And you?"
"Oh, alright. I think Iíd like that."
"Great!" He took Rishaís arm in his and offered the other to the normally taciturn vixen.
She eyed it reluctantly, sighed, and then took it.
Yote gave hir a big grin and said, "Commander Ė thereís hope for you yet!"
Go on to Chapter 3.
Characters and story copyright © 2011 Bernard Doove
except Risha DeMar who was created by Chakat Fleetfoot and used with permission.
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