The Impossible Dream - part 9
By Chakat Bluestripe (a.k.a Joe Prescott)
I look across the shuttle to my overnight bag. It is larger than most might expect but then I am staying longer than one night. The case next to it contains the data drives from my parents' ship. Tony was not able to find the parts needed to extract the data but he made a call to a shop on Amaethon. They should be able to copy the data onto a newer drive for examination. Tony also wanted them to try to reset the command passwords on the old drives to allow them to be used when placed back on the old ship. If this works then it will be easier to revive the ship.
There is also a bag of small knickknacks for my friends and family, it has been years since I left.
The planet grows slowly as I have already dropped out of FTL drive. It is beautiful from this distance. I can see the vast wastelands that take up much of the polar zones and I will be passing over the southern polar region as I make my approach. It is one of the least explored areas on the planet and I have always wondered what might be living there, undiscovered. I look out the window as I pass over and only see the white bleakness that everyone has seen on the planet maps. I can almost feel that something is there but it could just be my imagination. The green belt is mostly within a few degrees of the equator and even that is sparsely populated. The planet as a whole has less than 70,000 inhabitants, hardly a speck on the map of humanity.
I align the ship for entry into the atmosphere. Somewhere inside of me, I feel like I have been turned on. My empathic sense feels fulfilled somehow like walking out of silence and into a crowded noisy room. It is an oddly comforting feeling.
The shuttle follows its programmed flight and dips down into the atmosphere for deceleration. The shuttle slows as the display shows the target landing area drawing near. I can see the patches of green and brown, the lines of irrigation and the patterns formed in the fields by the harvesters.
Off in the distance, the family farm sprawls out like a green carpet, inviting me to fly over and check the seasonís crop. The shuttle turns off the autopilot as I take the controls. It is not too far and I know the roads to follow. It feels like another lifetime when I think about working the fields. They are the memories of childhood and the times of innocence and hard work. The fields stretch into the distance where the darker green of the forest begins, behind that the hazy sights of the mountains and a hint of snow at the upper peaks. This is my home, it is the place that formed me and taught me and cared for me and protected me. It is also the place that kept me prisoner and caused me to be somewhat of an outcast among my neighbors.
As I look out the window, I can see my familyís farm buildings drawing near. I slow to nearly a hover as I look at the familiar surroundings. Yes they are familiar but they donít strike me with a warm sensation. I guess it was a tough way to make a living, depending on hard labor and good weather to earn a life, but then these farmers were not looking for an easy life when they decided to move here and work the soil.
I understand the delicacy of the fruits grown here but also like most of the people here, we donít find them quite so delicious after eating them for years.
Although nobody ever said it out loud, I always felt that these farmers in general held the highest contempt for the rest of the civilized planets. I have wondered if that was the reason they decided to move way out to this planet and start a new colony. I sometimes wonder what could have been the cause to pull away so far from the federation? Yet they still depend on the other planets to sell their fruits. I guess independence has its practical limits.
There is a fresh crop of Bladskard fruit growing near the farmhouse and I decide that Iíll just park the shuttle right down there in the middle of it for old times sake. I am grinning widely as the shuttle gently lands, the somewhat squishy feeling as it touched down and the sight of the vines outside the window. The guys back at Utgard will have a laugh when I tell them the cash value of the landing pad, but playful fruit-fights were fairly common among the children while working in the fields.
As the engines power down I open the rear loading ramp and revel in the sound of vines being slowly crushed beneath it. I have a fleeting thought that maybe I am somehow getting a little revenge for all the years I had to nurture the fields. I donít know for sure about that, though I do enjoy that crushing sound.
I adjust my white and black cow print shirt and step out on the ramp. I breathe in the strong scents of fruit juice and crushed greens. I am smiling happily to myself when some field workers run up to the ship. Even though they are surprised to see the ship sitting there, I can feel that they are thinking about the demise of the plants beneath it. I chuckle to my self as I walk into the field to meet them.
After a brief introduction, they remember the "Chakat of Amaethon". They tell me that my parents are out working the northern fields, I am offered an escort to find them but I know the way. Nothing has changed over the years it seems. My parents still like to work the fields together even though there is plenty of hired help.
We walk out of the field and toward the house. To the side of the house I see an old field-truck. It looks like the same one I used to drive out to the fields everyday. I look inside the truck and recognize it, I guess if the truck still works then there is no need to get a new one.
"I am going to take this out to find my parents, it does still run doesnít it?"
The field hands nod as I disconnect the charger and climb in the passenger side, closing the door with my tail.
Ah yes! Under the many layers of dust in this truck are probably still some layers that I had seen years ago. The dust flakes thickly off the seat and coats my fur, "Home-Sweet-Home."
I pull out onto the road and head towards the northern fields about 15 km out. I am driving fairly slow and enjoying the dusty, rough road. The memories are flooding back and not all of them are bad.
I arrive at what used to be the northern fields but find that they have been extended a few kilometers since I left. I continue driving and looking across the fields for signs of life. Eventually I see trucks far to the west and turn down the access road towards them. I park next to the trucks and climb out the driver's door.
The fields are so large and the plants are high enough that it is never easy to locate the workers; usually I would just honk the horn and listen. Today I try to locate them with my empathy. I get a feeling that they are northwest of the trucks and quite a distance out.
I dive into the field and jog between the plants, trying to be as quiet as possible. I can sense that I am getting closer so I slow down and listen, I can hear my parents talking to each other as I stalk my "prey". I am about 20 meters away when I stop. I listen to their conversation, they are wondering when I will arrive and whether they should finish for the day and get cleaned up. Taking a deep breath, I let out the loudest "ROAR!" that I can muster as I crash noisily through the vines and pounce between them.
They both yell and fall away from me and land in the soft wet soil, cussing up a storm. I smile and look at them as I roll onto my back with them. Several fieldworkers come running waving their rakes and shovels in reaction to the loud roar.
They donít slow down when they see me in fact they speed up.
I roll to my paws but donít have time to speak before a shovel comes swinging down and glances off my rump. I see a rake coming and I jump to the side just in time. I turn and run out into the fields with the mob chasing after me. I easily outrun them and circle back towards the trucks. I can sense that they stopped chasing me and are coming back to the trucks. I climb in the truck and lock the doors and raise the windows.
I can see them walking up the road towards the trucks, my father in front and looking angry. They surround the truck and my father glares into the door window.
"ARTEMIS! HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT, AND HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU IGNORE ME AND DO IT ANYWAY?! GIT YOUR FURRY BUTT OUT OF THAT TRUCK AND GIT IT OVER HERE ... NOW!!!"
Wow, does that bring back memories. It is true I have been punished many times for stalking the farmhands but I still think the fun outweighs the punishment.
I open the door looking very sorry as my father grabs a few wooden plant stakes. I know the routine as I tail-tuck and walk slowly over and position my rump for my punishment. My Father doesnít hesitate at all as I feel and hear the first of several "SMACKS!" from sticks. Although they do hurt, I have always acted like they hurt much more. My fur helps to pad the flat sticks and still gives the sound of a painful smack. I look around and see the smiles on the other fieldworkerís faces. YesÖ Most of them know what it is like to have been stalked in the past.
With my punishment ended, we all get into the trucks and drive back to the farmhouse. The long slow drive back gives everyone time to reflect and once back at the house the prank is in the past.
My father looks a little dismayed at the shuttle sitting in the field but pauses only long enough to shake his head before surrendering to the situation. My mother, still wearing the soil from the field, hugs me tightly then runs her rough hands through my lower back fur.
"Oh Artemis, it has been so long, I am so relieved to see that you have healed so well from the injuries. I was expecting you to be ... allÖ well, you know. You look so grown up and official the way your hair is cut. I would have never imagined that you would be a pilot. You look half starved, lets get cleaned up and Iíll have the cook make you a special treat, a nice Bladskard fruit salad."
I put on my best smile and nod my head,
"It has been quite a while since I had any Ďskard. Can we have the cook make some real meat to go along with it also? The food on the outpost is all pre-made and quick thawed. I have missed real food more than anything else in that place."
"For sure, we have plenty of fresh meat in the cooler. Iíll have him pick out some thick steaks for you."
My real smile shines out as my tail swishes in anticipation.
It has been a few days since I arrived and I am scheduled to return tomorrow. Yesterday I drove over and talked to one of the men who operate the inter-planet shuttles. He has a small cargo ship that is capable of FTL speeds. He hasnít used the FTL drive lately since he only shuttles people to and from Dagda. He was willing to make a FTL jump out to the ship for a fair price if I need him to. I am hoping to get the parts to fix it though paying for them is still my greatest concern. As soon as I get confirmation of my salvage rights I will send the detailed scan out to Buster and see what he can come up with.
This morning, I picked up the data disks from the computer shop and they said that they had recovered all the data intact. They also said that they had reset all the passwords and checked the drives for any failures. They all checked good.
The amount of raw data is enormous and I will have to see if Tony can sort it out somehow. I am eager to dive into the data and look through the video logs too. I want to know what really happened in those last hours. All this will have to wait until I get back to the outpost though. The hours on shift waiting for something to happen will be perfect for sorting through the data.
I stand on the sidewalk just outside of the computer shop looking out across town. I can see the spaceport off through the hazy distance. There is a transport getting loaded. I remember the time I walked into the dock office and talked with the foreman about getting a ride off this planet. There is no ticket office for traveling passengers even though they are always transporting people from point to point. It is just kept on a personal level with prices posted on the wall, first come, first served.
Many feelings from the past creep back into my thoughts. They dredge up old emotions and regrets. I grew up here and for many years this was my home, but now I am a stranger. People still look oddly at me, even the people I grew up with. I had only one person actually walk up and feel honestly excited to see me. She was one of the few people who spent quality time with me through my school years.
I wish my sister Zephyrus was here. We could have had a few laughs at the expense of the past. She went to Terra for her honeymoon and convinced her new husband to stay there.
This place is like that, chasing away all the young blood and recruiting the old worn soldiers of life. The pay is good but the hard work, isolation, and lack of a luxurious future all adds up to a hard life. Although being a field hand is not like working in some ancient salt mines, it is nevertheless a task lacking challenges for an intelligent mind. Many of the men who sign up to work here will finish their yearís contract and take their money and leave. This means that an active recruitment campaign is needed to maintain the workforce. This is the field that my sisterís husband has decided to move into. They now operate an employment contract office and earn a commission for each contract signed.
I scan the street and buildings as I feel all of all the old memories awakening within me. I can place myself in certain instances but the feelings of familiarity I had for this place are strangely alien to me now. I get a thought of Pathmaker and how shi had talked about wanting to visit my home planet. My love for hir is all packed away in the boxes of old memories and happy times that are locked in the closet of the past.
I see the meat market down the street and remember that I had promised to bring back some real food to the outpost. I start towards the shop, leaving my memories shelved for now.
Tonight there is a gathering for me. Everyone has been invited and it is sort of a "Whirlwind visit, have to go now, good luck" type affair. It should be fun, there are still many people I havenít been able to talk to yet and I hope they will show up. After the party is over I will be leaving the planet and going back to the outpost.
For now though, I have all afternoon to my self. I have already packed everything into the shuttle except for the fresh meat, which will be delivered when they deliver the food for the party.
There is so much I donít have time to do and I am feeling pressure. I am not sure what I feel but it is pressure of some sort. My mother is talking all about the old times and I have been talking all about the new times. I need to find something.
There is a meadow between two mountains. It has a waterfall on one end and stream running across it. I used to go there to dream of a better life. I want to go there now. I want to think a while. It is a 3-hour drive and a 2-hour hike to get there by truck but the shuttle will make it there very quickly. I tell everyone I am going to the meadow for a while then I duck out quickly or else I will never get away.
The green grass, the wildflowers, and the animals nearby all calm my nerves and I lie down in the warm sunlight. This is peace. This is what I need for my soul. With all the duty I have to my career and my hunger for answers, it is this peace that is the foundation to my sanity. My mind quickly wanders to Pathmaker and the peace our love held. To be totally at peace with love and one another was our strength in the Special Forces.
There will always be something missing in my heart since shi is gone. I roll over and watch the stream flowing through some polished rocks. I can sense some animals nearby but none are dangerous on this planet, they were all imported.
I am flying through the forest, 10 meters above the ground and dodging tightly between the trees. The sunlight flashes across my face as the shadows fly past. I feel free and un-weighted by life. Am I a spirit? A ghost? Am I am memory?
The wind blows a chill through my fur as I wake up. The meadow sang me to sleep and I look around puzzled for a brief moment. I breathe in the scents of the evening and then remember the party.
I look at the time and see I am not late yet but I will be if I donít hurry and get back. I trot over and drink from the stream. The taste brings more memories of wasted summer days here in the meadow and I feel completely refreshed. This place is unique. The grass and ferns are soft and there are no stickers or sharp weeds to poke my fur. The plants here developed independent to animals and do not rely on them for germination. There are no insects here either.
Sometimes I feel sorry for the forest. The settlers introduced animals here and the plants are now in the food chain. I look closely at the grass as I walk back to the shuttle. Many of the wildflowers have very little color. They are mostly just there to pass and collect pollen. They never needed to attract bees or other insects.
I land the shuttle in the same spot as before and quickly rush over to the house. I can see all the trucks parked around and some of the guests standing around on the porch. The smell of meat on a hot grill mixed with the scent of a room full of somewhat dirty farm workers is another memory that strikes a note deep within me.
Everyone is all smiles as I walk into the room. I can sense that they are happy and enjoying the good food. People are petting my back and rump and tugging on my tail. I still think I am somewhat like a pet to them. I know how humans have an inherent urge to pet and feel fur and they usually do it innocently enough.
Suddenly someone pulls on my tail very hard and drags me backwards a couple of meters. I almost fall over before I can compensate.
"HEY!" I turn to look and I see my father holding my tail as two of the farmhands run towards me with buckets Bladskard juice.
It is all over in a flash as the sticky sweet juice pours over me, the deep red color staining my fur. I growl loudly and shake off as best as I can. The juice flies everywhere but the damage is already done. I know by the time I can get it washed out that my white fur will be a bright pink color.
I slowly become aware that everyone is laughing and I know that justice has been served. I stand there and accept my punishment for a moment before I pounce and hug my father very wetly. Iíll bet everyone at the outpost will enjoy the retribution too. I playfully offer to hug the few well-dressed people before I slosh over and fill up a couple plates with the great food.
The party ends uneventfully and after a long hot bath I walk out into the room in all my pink glory. Everyone has gone home after cleaning up the room and just my parents are left. I smile to them as I walk into the living room, "Well, I still think it was worth it"
My father smiles and nods, "Well I donít know if it was worth all the plants that you crushed but I think Iíll feel better watching it again on the news tomorrow." My mother giggles and nods.
"GAH!!" I know he is not joking, I had given a short interview before the party ended and Iíll bet they had the cameras ready for the action shots. I just shake my head and hug them. They win this time.
The flight back to Utgard was uneventful and even though I arrived at 1:00am, it was instantly dinnertime as everyone saw the food. There was a good laugh at my pinkness though they didnít go too far with it since we were all unloading some very good food. Jenna and David volunteered to be the cooks and Tony was eager to start sorting through the data disk I had brought back. Ross and Eric munched on the fresh fruit as they packed the rest of the meat into the freezer.
I went to my room for a little rest and checked my comm for messages. The first thing I noticed was a response to my salvage application. I checked it quickly and after reading through many disclaimers and stipulations I came to the important part that said the claim had been approved. I sat heavily back onto my bed and let the excitement sink in. I am now the sole owner of a transport ship. That means I am also responsible to keep it safely and not to let it drift aimlessly out in the dark. The navigation beacon is acceptable for the time being but is only considered temporary.
I begin to write a letter to Buster explaining that I would like to get the parts necessary to pilot the ship the relatively short distance to Amaethon, and there to let it get repaired back to full operation. I glance over to my documents and attach the full detailed damage report of "MY" ship. Although I am not monetarily rich, I do have a considerable savings since I have not been supporting a family and donít own a home and have free housing. This may or may not be enough to buy what I need but I am hoping that the age of this ship should make used parts easily available. I send the message and then notice a message from Crystal and Thunder. They have written me an exciting note that they have gotten more information about my parents' ship and that they have included a list of crewmembers. Thunder mentions that hir contact, the skunktaur, is now very interested since getting word that the ship has been found. Hie has not been given any information about me or that anyone from that ship is still alive, as I have made clear that I donít want to let out any secrets until I have this mystery all figured out.
I open the list of crewmembers but I am not exactly overwhelmed with joy. It is only a list of names and nothing else. I will have to have Tony cross these names with position and species from the data disks. David calls out that the food is ready and I waste no time heading to the kitchen. The food is delicious and everyone eats more than they should. I tell the story from the very start about why I am pink and I tell all about the planet and what I did with my time there. I also mention that I am now the owner of the ship so everyone can call me "Captain" from now on. After a loud round of raspberries, I decide to retract the captain statement.
I stand up feeling overfed and tell everyone I am going to bed. I nudge Tony with my tail and wink as I leave. He gets the hint.
The next two days pass quickly as I wait for Tony to sort through the data for anything relevant. Finally he brings me a few pages of data and my excitement grows as I see the crewís roster cross-referenced to a physical description and identification photo. I immediately look at the picture of the white and black chakat kitten. "Hunter", Daughter of Laurasia and Starduster.
My name is Hunter? Tony nods silently.
I sit for a while thinking about the name, it could be worse and it does somewhat describe me.
After a while I decide that "Chakat Hunter, Daughter of Laurasia and Starduster" is not at all bad and I practice writing it a few times.
Next I look up "Laurasia" and find out that shi is the daughter of Kalki of House RedPaw and SureFire.
"Kalki of House RedPaw? A skunktaur? I'm one quarter Skunktaur? That might explain my strong empathic abilities but I would have never guessed a skunktaur?"
Tony laughs and tries to keep a straight face,
"That will explain the certain smells after you have eaten a #4"
"GAH! Look whoís talking Mr. ĎI have a gas leak in my environmental suit, I need a new air pack!í"
Tony laughs loudly,
"Well, the #4 does seem to wreak havoc on everyone."
I donít know any skunks personally; I have had some exposure working with them a little in the team but never did any socializing with them.
I sit and think a little about my past and then I get an idea. I enter my childhood name into the outpost query and request a history search. The computer quickly displays my information. I was born February 15th 2308. Deceased, June 23rd 2310. Cause of death: Deep Space Event.
"Deep Space Event" That is certainly vague.
I run the rest of the crew through the query and find the same vague cause of death listed for them too.
I attach this data to a quick note to Thunder and Remind hir that nobody can know that Hunter is still alive until I get to the bottom of this mystery.
I wake up suddenly from a light sleep as Tony walks in to my room. Even as I am waking up I can sense his excitement.
"Blue! I have got it! I have it all right here!
I have the mission statement and even the last bits of the ship's logs.
It is all right here!"
I roll rover and stand up quickly, Tony turns on the lights and I am blinded for a second.
"Great! Let me see it... after I can see again!"
I grab the data module and insert it into my terminal. Tony points to the important sections and starts telling me what it says even as I am reading.
"Blue! Look here. This was a mission to test the first fully functioning prototype crystal-mining machine. I read the specs and what it would do was develop a warp bubble type force field around the device, and use high-powered transporters to dissolve the soil in front of it and move it to the rear of it. The crystals would not be dissolved and would be gathered in at the front of the machine. What makes this so interesting is that the transporters were made to be broad banded and they were very simple. They would not bother to maintain the soil texture just rematerialize it into a default pattern. Just dissolve and rematerialize."
I am still reading but stop to look at Tony.
"So why bring the thing way out here?"
Tony smiles and points a few pages down the mission statement.
"Look here. You see, this thing was a one-half scale model, even that would make it too dangerous to test in any inhabited area."
"I donít understand why they couldnít just take out in the desert and fire the thing up?"
Tony rolls his eyes and looks away for a second. I can sense his confusion that I donít understand the obvious.
"Okay, it is like this. First this is a prototype and has never been fully energized on any planet. Second this thing holds a surprisingly large amount of fuel to power the warp bubble and transporter fields. Third, this mining machine looks for the very crystals that are used to make the junctions for the plasma injectors in warp engines, we all know how rare those are on Terra."
I nod slowly trying to read and listen at the same time.
Tony points again to the screen,
"Here! Read this, it mentions the laws governing warp fields generated in the atmosphere on TerraÖ See, Strictly Forbidden. This is only a civilian company working on a government contract, not even a weapons contract. I doubt they would get any special exemptions. Look here too, see, this shows that the transporters generate a huge amount of X-ray, Gamma, and Neutron radiation. That is why the Warp field is used to shield the pilot. This thing literally melts rocks."
I stop reading for a moment and just let is soak in.
It makes some sense to me. I understand the device I guess but why would this mining equipment be a reason for a cover-up?
I read on and see where they had selected a planet that showed trace amounts of the crystal. They had installed special deep earth scanners on the transport ship and were planning to do some test mining to see just how fast the process would be. The ship would stay safely in orbit and only the shuttles would land on the planet.
This would explain why a baby chakat was allowed onboard.
I look up to Tony and nod to myself.
"You know, that miner was not on the ship when we scanned it."
Tony nods and scrolls to the next folder.
"This is the last hour of the ship's logs. The last fifteen minutes is the attack."
Tony points excitedly again and starts telling me what I am reading.
"See, they were in warp and this other ship comes alongside and punctures the fuel conduits to one engine. This causes a Failsoft condition and the ship automatically falls out of warp. Falling out of warp feels like the worst hangover you have ever hadÖ times ten."
I nod; knowing all about emergency warp procedures and then try read more. Tonyís energy and excitement shows no sign of easing up so I let him continue telling me what to read.
"Here is the automated distress signal being actuated and immediately getting acknowledged by this outpost. It was then thatÖ look hereÖ the sensors show three transport signatures. Shortly after that, the sensors show shots fired. I checked the personal logs but nobody had time for that. The next event is the cargo bays getting forcefully opened. This matches the damage we saw. Here you can see the atmosphere venting in the front cargo area. There must have been a damaged seal somewhere because the rest of the ships atmosphere seemed to have slowly vented out through there. The next shots fired must have killed the ships main internal power because the log stops ungracefully with a section of bad data bits."
Tony is breathing hard in his excitement and I pull him close to sit on my bed. I continue reading and re-reading some of the data. Eventually I stop and look at the time. It is late into my sleep shift and Tony has begun to swing from his high-energy state down to one more like exhaustion.
"Have you been up all night sorting and reading this for me?"
Tony nods tiredly.
I turn off the terminal and lie down against the rear of my bed. Tony begins to stand but I gently bring him down close to me and hug him tenderly with my hands and handpaws.
Tony lies down into a purring chakat hug as I bring the blanket over both of us.
To be continued in Part 10.
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