By Chris Gilman & Jimmy Lawhon
In the medical bay the large cougar starts to move. His eyes snap open and he looks around the room he’s in. It’s not the operating theater he went to sleep in, must be a recovery room. He sits up and lifts the sheet that covers him, finding himself naked he frantically looks around for his clothes but doesn’t see them in the room.
There is a woosh as the door to the room opens and the chakat he had met earlier comes in with his clothes. “Your clothes needed washing. So the doctor sent them out while you were having the operation.”
Goliath accepts his clothes and slips into them under the covers. “How long was I out?”
Shi looks at the clock on the wall and frowns, “Well, you’ve been asleep for about eight hours, but they were only able to keep you under for the operation about ninety minutes. We thought you would wake after the anesthetic wore off, but you just went into a deep sleep. They figured you were just tired and had you moved into this recovery room to sleep it off.”
With a grunt he swings his legs off the bed and looks at his chest. Gingerly he brings his hand up. Stroking the white fur over his heart he asks a silent question while radiating worry that Dustcloaud easily picks up, even without hir empathic abilities.
“Yes, the operation was a success, for both of you. Your friend Saber has been up and about for the last few hours, answering questions for the doctors and the like. But we were waiting for you to wake before escorting you to more suitable quarters.” A grin forms on her muzzle, “Though you are likely to find yourself back down here a few times within the next few days.”
Goliath stands and stretches his arms over his head, his back popping as he touches the ceiling. “Okay, I guess now is as good a time as any.” He exits the small room and sees saber sitting in a nearby waiting area.
Upon seeing him leave the room Saber stands and approaches. They embrace each other in a mutual bear-hug and slap each other’s back in welcome.
Dustcloud’s com starts going off again and shi raises hir hand to hir ear. Shi listens to the voice and nods hir head, “Yes sir, I will escort them to quarters then ask if they wish to assist in the docking bay.”
Shi removes hir hand from hir ear and looks at the two felines who are standing in front of hir. “What was that about?” asks Goliath with a suspicious look on his face.
“Nothing to worry about big guy, the techs going over your ship would like to ask you some questions if you are willing. But first, let me escort you two to your rooms.”
Saber pats his friend on the back and gives Dustcloud a nod, “Okay, we’ll talk to them after we see our quarters.”
Shi gives them a pleasant smile and waves them towards the door out of the medical wing.
As they walk down the corridors they notice many people hurrying about their business, both human and furs. They see uniforms of several different colors and even a few who appear to be either off duty or civilians. Dustcloud guides them to a lift and they take it up a few decks. As they exit they turn and walk down a long corridor. Shi stops in front of a pair of plain doors and turns to them, “This room and the room across the hall are for you two. Take whichever you want.” Reaching into one of hir pockets shi pulls out a small note pad and scribbles on it. Shi pulls off two sheets and hands them to the cats, “These are the access numbers. Just punch them into keypads to gain access to the rooms.”
Saber takes the room she stands next to and Goliath takes the other across the hallway. After punching the code into the keypad Saber walks into his room to look around.
Goliath enters the code to make sure it works then pockets the slip of paper. Turning back to Dustcloud he gives hir a nod, “Ok, if you’ll escort me to where they are working on our ship I’ll give them a hand. Maybe get the chance to get my hands dirty again.”
Shi looks at Saber’s closed door, “What about your friend?”
Goliath gives a little chuckle, “He’s just the pilot.” He presses his thumb against his chest, “I’m the engineer. He flies, and I fix what he breaks.”
Shi gives him a nod of understanding and taps on Saber’s door. When he opens it shi hands him another slip of paper with a code on it, “This is my com unit code. You’re friend wants to go down to the hanger to work with the techs on your ship. Call me, even if I’m off duty, if you have any questions. I’ll be more then happy to help you.”
Saber takes the slip and gives hir a smile, “Ok, he had the nap after all. I’m going to lie down and catch some Z’s.”
Shi gives him a friendly smile and turns back to Goliath as the door closes, “Ok, let’s go big guy.”
Once more into the labyrinth of corridors they go. Eventually they arrive at the landing bay where the freighter still sits on its skids. Several furs and humans in coveralls scurry over the craft and under it, trying to learn everything they can about the alien vessel. One of the humans sees the large cougar and the chakat enter the hanger. He comes over with a smile, wiping his hands on a rag.
“Howdy, you must be the one they are calling Goliath.” He looks up at the large cat and smiles, “I can see why.” He sticks his hand out in greeting, “Name’s Lawrence, I’m the chief tech of this team here. I understand this beauty is your vessel?”
Goliath takes his hand and gives him a friendly nod, “Yep, I’m the engineer on this vessel. Sorry to say she’s not in the best of shape right now.”
“Yeah, we saw the scorching all over that engine compartment. The pile of slag we found in there I am guessing was your main drives. Can you tell me what happened?”
Goliath gives a nod, “Hydrogen leak, one spark was all it took to turn that area into a fireball. But it also surged the entire drive system, which is how we got here apparently. But regretfully it slagged the warp drive and damaged the reactor. We did some field repairs, but would really like to get it fixed properly before we try to fly her again.”
Lawrence gives an involuntary shiver, “Why did your designers use such a volatile substance in your ship? Hydrogen is too unstable, one little leak and the whole ship could blow.”
“It’s kind of a by-product from the reactor which powers almost everything else. And since it’s so handy, it is of course used to power our conventional drives which are nothing more then simple chemical engines utilizing the hydrogen and oxygen which are normally stored in high pressure containers.”
The human nods his head, “Yes, I can see the usefulness of that. As long as your reactor works you got fuel to keep your ship going. But how…”
Goliath holds up his hand stopping the question, “And please, don’t ask me to explain exactly how the reactor works, I have very little clue on the theory, but I have a lot of skill in the practical. While I was an engineer, I never studied that particular branch of it. When I was trained to be the flight engineer I was taught how to fix it even after major damage, but the theories were seen as beyond my need of knowledge. The hydrogen and oxygen that come out are the result of the generating process. It was just seen as a good way to kill two birds with one stone. At least to fuel up for a flight we only need to top off the storage tanks with water.”
“You don’t mind if we examine it do you?” asks Lawrence as he looks back at the craft.
The big cat shakes his head, “Go ahead, it’ll need to be stripped down to fix anyway. I would like to be able to fly it off the deck again though.”
“I understand, and if you would please give us what knowledge you can as we do so it would be very beneficial.”
Goliath rubs his hands together as a grin crosses his muzzle, “Ah, you mean do I want to get my hands dirty?”
Lawrence gives him a nod, “If you would like to, it would be much appreciated.”
Goliath starts to walk towards the access hatch, “Well, what are we waiting for.”
The human claps the big cougar on the back and lets out a laugh, “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the rest of the tech crew.”
Dustcloud watches as the human and cougar climb into the belly of the ship and grins to hirself. ‘Well, he looks to be enjoying himself at least.’ Shi checks hir watch and sees that hir shift is finally over. ‘Good, now I can go report off duty and catch something to eat. But I think I should go check on the other one before I eat. He looked a little lost when I left him in his room.” Shi turns hir back on the docking bay and heads for the office to report off duty before talking to Saber.
* * *
Saber is lying on his belly in his bed. He looks around at the room and sighs at the sight of all the odd things that he doesn’t understand. He chuckles to himself as he thinks, ‘At least I could find and use the facilities easily enough. I guess there are only so many ways to make a shitter.’
He gets to his feet and pads around the room a few times, looking at what are obviously some type of control panels and screens, but having no idea what they do. Shelves cover almost every open space of wall, and drawers are stuck everywhere there is room for them. In one corner of the room is a small cupboard that is quite small, but functional. But there is no sign of any type of cooking or kitchen area.
He lies back down and closes his eyes to try and sleep again, “Maybe I should have gone with Goliath. At least then I wouldn’t be bored out of my mind.”
There is a tapping at his door and he rolls off the bed to answer it. Expecting to see Goliath he is surprised to see the chakat now sans hir weapon belt and the earpiece for hir com unit. “Hi,” he says with a shocked expression still on his face.
Shi gives him a pleasant smile, “Hello, I’m off duty now and thought you might like to get a bite to eat since I forgot to show you where the mess hall is.”
As he opens his muzzle to answer his stomach gives an answer of its own. Dustcloud giggles and Saber looks down at his belly, “Well, guess it answered for itself. I was wondering how you guys ate here since there wasn’t anything in the room. Not even a candy bar.”
“Sorry, I should have shown you both around, but that is why I gave you my com code. So you could just call me up and ask.”
Saber gives her a crocked grin, “Uhh… And how do I do that?”
Shi would have laughed if shi hadn’t sensed his confusion. “You really don’t have any idea how to use a com?”
He shrugs, “I know how to use them where I come from. But nothing here resembles a com unit to me.”
“Well, after we eat I can show you how everything in your cabin works.”
He gives hir a nod and exits his cabin, “Ok, let’s go find some grub.”
Shi leads him down the corridors, but keeps him on the same level. Soon they enter what appears to be a standard mess hall. Looking around saber comments, “Well, looks like any other mess hall, but… Where’s the food?”
Shi gives him a quizzical look, “Right over there.” She points at an array of machines along one wall.
He scratches his head, “Some kind of dispensers?”
“Uhhh… Yes you could say that.”
He rubs his hands together, “Good, what’s on the menu?”
“What would you like?” shi asks with a slight smile.
“Oh anything, long as it’s got meat and there is plenty of it.”
Shi taps two orders into the control panel and two trays of food materialize in the opening. Saber’s jaw drops at the sight of food simply materializing out of thin air. He still has the expression as shi turns and tries to hand him one of the trays. “You ok?”
He numbly takes his tray, still in shock at what he just saw. “Yeah, fine.”
Shi watches him out of the corner of hir eye as shi leads him over to an empty table. He pulls out a chair and sits down while shi just sits on hir haunches. He digs in with gusto as does shi, and soon both trays are empty.
Saber licks his lips, “Not bad, but a little bland.”
Shi nods, “The replicator can’t duplicate all the delicacies of taste and texture, but it does a fair impression.”
“Replicator?” he asks with his head cocked to one side.
Shi gives hir head a shake, “Sorry, that is what we got the food out of. It basically turns raw materials into whatever you ask it to.”
“Isn’t that a little dangerous though? What if someone miss-programmed them and everyone got a serious dose of something lethal?”
Shi shakes hir head, “I don’t understand entirely how they work, but there are extensive safeguards against that. In fact, it’s such an energy consuming process that it is only used in space where we can safely use anti-matter reactors.”
Saber gives an involuntary shiver at the mention of anti-matter. “What’s wrong?” asks Dustcloud.
Saber composes himself and gives hir a friendly grin, “Tell you when there aren’t so many people around.”
Shi gives him a grin, “Well, we’re done here, so I guess we can go back to your room and show you how everything works.”
* * *
In his cabin shi points out the com unit and how to use it. Also the entertainment console is simple enough with hir explanations. The computer acts like any other now that shi shows him how to access it and how their file systems work.
When shi finishes hir demonstrations shi sits back on hir haunches and beams him a soft smile. “Now, why don’t you tell me what is so troubling about anti-matter?”
Saber still sitting on the bed sighs heavily, “Where we come from, anti-matter weapons are being experimented with. I’ve seen what they can do. And the thought of how dangerous it can be sends a shiver down my spine just to think about it. One of them was even hooked into the machine I was testing at the time. When I fired it the explosion blew my mecha backwards to crash into the blast shield behind me.” A tear trickles down his face, “It took them six hours to extract me from the cockpit. And when they did I wish they had of left me in there.”
Shock clear on hir face shi asks, “Why?”
“Cause the explosion tore most of the testing area to rubble, and it killed forty-seven.” He looks at his hands as they start to tremble, “They died from the rubble collapsing on them, and it was my fault.”
Shi stands and cautiously reaches for him, “Why were they allowed so close to such a dangerous testing?”
He shakes his head, “No, they were elsewhere in the base. The base was entirely underground and the blast sent a magnitude five earthquake through the entire thing. It was never made for such things and several corridors caved in and collapsed. Hundreds were injured, but those forty-seven, their deaths are on my hands.”
He drops his head into his hands and lets the tears start to fall. Shi feels his pain through hir empathic abilities and steps forward to comfort him. Wrapping hir arms around his shoulders shi pulls him into hir chest and comforts him as he lets the sorrow drain that he has been holding in.
Soon his sobbing stops and shi lays him down on the bed. Pulling the light sheet over him shi gives him a gentle kiss on his forehead and leaves his cabin to let him sleep.
* * *
In the hanger bay Goliath points out the main parts of the reactor that are now spread out over a section of the floor. As several of the techs scan the parts he suddenly feels weak and leans against a nearby wall.
Lawrence sees him starting to look pale under his fur and walks over to him, “You ok there?”
Goliath looks up at him and gives him a nod, “Yeah, just getting a little hungry.”
Lawrence guides him over to a nearby bench, “Little hungry? You look like you’re starving.”
The cougar looks up at him and gives him a sheepish grin, “By your standards, I am.”
“I usually eat enough food for two or three people a day. But…”
Lawrence stops him, “But today you haven’t. Hey Mike!” he calls to one of the lower grade techs and waves him over.
The small fox runs over and nods to his superior, “What ya need boss?”
“Run to the mess hall and bring us back a lot of food. Take Kentha with you.” Looking at Goliath, “And make it fast.”
The fox snaps a salute and runs off. Passing by a young woman he motions for her to follow him and together they dash out of the hanger.
Lawrence looks back at the cougar, “They’ll be back soon. The mess hall is nearby.”
Goliath gives him a grin, “I’ll be fine. I just need to sit down for a little.”
Lawrence gives him a nod, “Ok big fella, just rest here for a few.”
Goliath sighs and rests his head against the wall behind him. He knows he should have eaten a few hours ago, but the work was just so interesting. It was kind of fun to show these people how the ship worked. Not to mention talking the techs into getting the parts required to fix the reactor so they could see it in action and test its outputs.
Sitting there with the din of the techs working around him he drifts off into light sleep.
A shaking rouses him to consciousness again and he opens his eyes to find Lawrence and Mike in front of him. “You ok?” asks Mike as he holds out a covered tray to the massive cougar.
Goliath gives him a nod as he takes the tray, “Yeah, just dozed off.”
Removing the cover from the tray he digs in while several techs who are nearby watch in shock as Goliath gobbles down the large meal in only minutes. He sets the tray on the deck and sighs. “Not bad, for a snack, but it’ll keep me going for now.”
“Snack! That was enough to feed someone for an entire day,” says Lawrence.
Goliath holds his hand up, “But I told you, I eat a lot more then the normal person. Call it a little flaw in my makeup. I’m strong as an ox, but eat like a whale.”
Lawrence shakes his head, “I would hate to have to feed you in a conventional method.” He looks at how far they have gotten today and sighs. “This’ll take us several days to complete, why don’t we call it a day and go get you some real food in the mess hall?”
Goliath rubs his hands together and grins at the lead tech, “Sounds good to me. Hope you guys aren’t on tight rations here or anything.”
Several of the nearby techs laugh as Lawrence explains, “Don’t worry, long as we got power, we got food.”
A little confused the cat just grins, “Ok.”
Following the techs out of the hanger they head for the mess hall, most of them still discussing the technical aspects of the ship as they leave.
Story and characters are © 2002 Christopher Gilman & Jimmy Lawhon
Chakats and Commander Stormcloud are the creation of Bernard Doove.
To be continued in Part 4.
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