Part 2: Ambush.
Zwokkie, Chakat Silktail and Alexander Dawson found themselves in a good mess. Due to a Warp Coil Overload they were forced to spend a month in a stasis-like sleep. During this sleep, they were thrown off course by the gravitational pull of a large asteroid. With all but a week's rations spoiled through radiation and at least a month of time between them and the nearest known planetary system starvation was imminent.
It had almost been a week since we started our way back to Voxxa. Rations were low, but because the Captain and I had begun to mainly rely on our nutrient storages for survival, the week's rations could be stretched. If, however, we didn't find a planet with a suitable atmosphere soon, the rations would soon be gone and we would all die of starvation. Alexander Dawson first, as he couldn't live off a stored reserve because he is an unmodified human.
He also seemed to avoid us, minimizing contact with us to work hours only. I think it was his way of coping with the pressure. It did make it a little difficult for Silktail and I to check up on him to see wether he was eating his share or not. Instead of cutting down himself to spare us.
Silktail seemed to manage well too, shi was bright and optimistic, keeping everyone's spirit up. However, I was feeling the inconveniences of this 'self-starvation' pretty hard.
Being a Skunktaur, I can shift my gender at will, but there are a few natural causes that override my control. This is different for each Skunktaur. I've noticed that I possess a similar rhythm to Chakats: when in male form, I reach a peak of virility in about 28-30 days. My male hormones are at their maximum level and my semen is primed for procreation. During this peak, I can't shift and though the hormones don't target my psyche, my entire physical state does affect my thinking and behavior. I definitely feel more attraction to females of my (or other) species when I'm in my male form.
After this has passed, however, I shift into my female self within 32 hours. This too, I can't stop. It happens. My choice is soon restored and I'm free to shift whenever I wish. My female cycle starts at that point, ovulation and estrus in generally the same time-span as my male hormonal cycle. And again, my physical state gives me sexual needs and I can't shift until after I come off heat. The obvious occurs and I automatically shift into my male self. I usually intervene here and shift into my male form before I ovulate, thus preventing myself going into heat. When I'm female the general attraction reverses, and I start looking at men.
Now the problem was that I had passed my male sexual peak just after we came out of our stasis-sleep. My body needed to shift gender but there weren't enough nutrients to accommodate the shift. In fact there still was ample left to supply the change, but I'd die of starvation soon after and it was just a matter of survival-override that I didn't shift. The fact that my body was protesting didn't help improve my mood at all.
I was moody for a few days now, grumbling about anything that didn't go perfectly right. Although my hormonal cycle just started anew, the way my body protested against this made me feel miserable. I knew I had to focus on other things, but even playing my Synthesyzer didn't work.
I have this Synthesyzer specially adapted to Taurform species with pawhands (mine and Chakats at that time) and it had a second board on the floor with added panels and effect switches. A friend and I had worked out the specs for it in high school and I made one for myself. My friend, being a wolf morph, had no use for it by lack of pawhands.
Today I was feeling even worse, I got to the bridge and captain Silktail immediately sensed something was wrong. Concernedly shi padded over to me and put a hand on my shoulder.
"What's wrong Zwokkie?" shi asked.
I explained to hir what was going on and shi said shi was expecting this. I looked puzzled and shi laughed a little.
"Oh Zwokkie, I wouldn't make a good Captain if I didn't know my crew. Besides, our little empathic bond made me notice the build-up in tension over the past days." Shi started petting the fur on my back again. "You need to get your mind off this, and this time I have just the thing that might do the trick."
I wanted to protest but shi stopped me in mid-sentence. "No, it's not that. I know you don't want to engage in that so soon in any relationship." Shi leaned over and whispered in my ear. "That's what makes you so cute."
I started at that and looked straight at hir. All I could see was hir grin, hir canines glinting a little, and I couldn't tell whether shi meant that or not. Then shi made hir proposal and I agreed to that.
As shi padded back to hir station, I settled behind mine. There was a little lull, the only sound our own breathing when suddenly a little beep emanated from Alex's console.
"Captain, I think you want to see this.", he said. Shi came over to him and he continued, "The scanners have picked up a planet that might prove to have a suitable atmosphere." Shi looked at the readings and nodded.
"Yes, that's definitely a class M (Earth-type planet). It's only a day's travelling distance and I'm certain we can find food there.", shi said. We were all very relieved. At last we could be certain we'd get back home alive.
We plotted the fastest course towards the planet and set the computer to automatically orbit it. That night we ate our first good meal in a week.
It wasn't until later that night that I walked up to Silktail's quarters. I was still a little moody, bit it seemed that the prospect of getting home whole already had good influence on me.
The doors opened before I had a chance to knock. "Here I am." I announced needlessly, but politely.
"Ahh, good," Shi said ,"I was beginning to wonder whether you were going to show up or not." Shi gave me an informal Chakat greeting, in short a generous, friendly hug. I replied to this by hugging hir back.
Shi was wearing a white, paint-stained apron, and somehow shi managed to make it as close fitting as anyone could get a plain apron to fit. I padded into the room and saw that shi had already set up hir gear and mixed some paint.
"Would you like a drink before we start?" Shi asked.
"No thanks, I already had some," I replied. "What kind of a portrait were you thinking of?"
Silktail loved to paint, and shi had already asked me lots of times to model for hir. I always agreed, as this was a pleasant pastime. Besides, it made hir happy when shi was painting, and in a way, this made me feel happy too. Shi knew this and that it would get my mind off how miserable I felt.
"Oh, just stand over there next to the table with the fishbowl on it and I'll see to you soon." Shi came over to me and pressed hir flank to mine while reaching across my shoulders to mould me in the pose shi wanted me in. Shi paced a little back and forth, rubbing hir sides against mine while adjusting my arms and head. I got the feeling shi was doing that on purpose, but shi was soon done and stepped back.
"Now would you be so kind as to levitate the bowl and tilt it slightly over your head as if spilling the contents over yourself?" Shi asked, and I complied. Concentrating on the bowl, it slowly rose into the air and I calmly adjusted it's position until shi said it was just right.
Yes, I have use of Telekinesis. It's part of our heritage from our days of enslavement too. After the first Skunktaurs were set free, they were administered an Entron-based virus to form a filter around their cerebrum. It was supposed only to filter out foreign substances before it affected their minds. Instead it also stimulated certain regions of their brains and they developed mental powers. These are categorised by 'House':
House Redpaw possesses Telepathy;
House Bluepaw (me) possesses Telekinesis;
and House Blackpaw possesses something called Astral Travel.
As soon as I was in the right pose, Silktail began painting. In just a few minutes shi was completely engrossed in hir work. I noticed hir eyes shining whenever shi peeked from behind hir canvas to take a look at me. And shi was right, it did cheer me up to see hir like that. It also cheered me up in a different way, shi was a furious painter and each time hir muzzle showed up, it was covered in more splotches of paint.
I was really beginning to cheer up and I even felt a warm feeling spread within me. I didn't really notice it because I was getting a little tired of keeping a fishbowl afloat for an hour and a half now. Not that it was the weight bothering me, it was the amount of time I was keeping it up. Then Silktail peered out from behind hir canvas again and shi froze. Shi dropped hir brush and the sound drew my attention.
I looked at the Chakat, who had a wide-eyed expression of total amazement on hir face, and was puzzled about it for a brief moment. Then I realized what the warm glow meant, I was shifting my gender. Because the feeling is so natural to me, I didn't associate it with my shifting in the first place. Silktail might have known about the changing capabilities of my species, but this must have been the first time shi actually witnessed it.
I looked at the paint-stained muzzle again, hir ears were focused at two different directions and hir eyes were still full of amazement. Usually, a Skunktaur shifting in front of another is a very intimate occasion. But at this moment, the whole situation was strangely comical and I couldn't help but chuckle. The pitch of my voice rising slightly with each breath.
Because of this, my already wavering concentration on the bowl completely slipped and it fell with a resounding *Bong!* (Luckily it was an unbreakable synthetic bowl.) I didn't notice, my chuckling turning into laughter. Sounding weird as my vocal chords changed.
Silktail was drawn from hir mesmerization by the crash, and noticed my odd-sounding laughter now. Shi realized how awkward shi must be looking covered in paint looking at me like that and started laughing too, partly because shi thought I sounded funny, and partly because I was beginning to have a laughing-fit and gave her the same feeling.
It took us ten minutes to stop laughing. We were literally rolling on the floor with laughter, getting ourselves covered in paint as the floor was beginning to be covered in splotches too. For a while, this only fuelled the hilarity. Finally as the feeling slowly abated we got up and recomposed ourselves.
I was finished shifting by now, and Silktail looked at my female body. Then shi looked at hir painting and poked me in my side with a toothy grin.
"Now look what you did," shi said. "I don't think I have enough paint left finish it now."
I smirked at the remark and went to the table on the other side of the room to pour two drinks. We both sat down comfortably, tired out from laughing, and admired hir work while drinking. It showed me, in a woodland surrounding, a sun was shining warmly. The bowl was turned into a floating crystal orb, tipping over and showering me with clear water. My pose suggested that I was totally enjoying the cooling water.
Shi sidled up to me flank to flank and put hir head on my shoulder. I put my arm around hir waist and closed my eyes for a moment enjoying hir companionship and a soft rumble slowly filled the room.
I was woken up by the muffled sound of Alexander's voice on the other side of the door. I looked around and noticed I was still in the captain's quarters. Shi was lying besides me, hir head resting on my lower body's back, still asleep.
"Err, Silktail.. Captain?" I said.
Shi stirred a little, a new barrage of knocking and Alex's voice finally woke hir up.
"Captain! Everything alright in there? Please answer, will you?" Alex sounded worried.
"Umm, Everything's alright Alex. I was asleep, that's all. What's the matter?" shi said while getting up.
Alex said that we were in orbit about the planet, and that he had already tried hir comlink. As shi didn't answer, he decided to come over himself. He had been standing at that door for five minutes already, not sure whether to break it down or not.
Silktail told him shi'd be on the bridge as soon as shi could and he left. I waited a minute or two before going out to my own quarters to freshen up and change vests. I had a quick, but rich, breakfast and joined them both on the bridge. Alex blinked a few times on spotting me, but remembered my gender-changing ability and soon continued scanning the planet for a place to land.
It was a nice moderate planet. We found a clearing to land and waited for our next pass so we were able to set our ship down under cover of darkness. There was some kind of fortification a few miles south of our chosen landing site and we didn't want to be spotted. We all went to bed early that night to be able to set to our work first thing the next morning.
When I was lying in bed, which was basically a large mattress laid on the floor, I gathered my thoughts and tried to work them out. Last night was a strange one. My feelings towards Silktail were pretty mixed up and I had quite a hard time not letting them slip. The empathic bond would enable hir to sense them, and I didn't know what shi would think.
I found Silktail to be a good friend to me when shi wasn't my captain. But I was feeling something else since I met hir. Something I felt when we were sharing that embrace after the painting session. I had never felt these feeling so soon with anyone and I wasn't sure what to do about them. And then there was my shifting. As I have mentioned, a Skunktaur shifting genders in front of others is usually a very intimate moment, and very embarrassing if it happens in public. But somehow I was completely at ease with hir when this happened.
I found that my feelings towards hir had changed from a deep friendship into something else, but I didn't know if it was good thing or not. After all, shi also is my captain. I was feeling pretty confused about this when finally one of the first things I learned came to me. My Chakat teacher always said during Sexual Education classes always said that, when you're confused about your feelings for another, you have to let your heart decide. I decided to see what a night's rest would bring to me and pulled my sheet over me.
When my alarm woke me the next morning, I was positive about it. I did love Silktail, and I'm sure I did from the moment I saw hir. I wouldn't tell hir in words, as I tend to end up saying something different than what I actually meant. Instead I'd rely on the empathic link to convey the message. There is a great advantage to this over words, emotions don't lie.
I stepped onto the bridge and went towards my station, as soon as Silktail came into my 'reach' shi looked up from hir console and turned towards me. Shi looked a bit surprised, but soon started to smile warmly. I returned the smile and added a thought of a friendly hug. I didn't know whether shi got that or not, these things are more Telepathy-based than any, but shi briefly closed hir eyes and returned to hir station.
Moments later shi announced that present scanning showed that there were no settlements nearby that we might have overlooked and that we could start looking for food soon. We all started preparing for the excursion.
Silktail and I would carry any foodstuffs we found, our Taur bodies much better configured for loads. Alex saw to it that we would be safe from any hostile animal life. We soon found a lot of edible fruits and vegetables. Although strange-looking, most of them tasted pretty familiar. Stuffing them into our modified backpacks called 'Carisaks', we were able to haul an enormous amount of food on our first run.
The problem now was storage. These fruits and vegetables would spoil awfully fast and Alex came up with the answer. We would store them in the unused stasis pods. There they would keep, even until after we got home.
I announced that I'd use the rest of the day to work on getting some more power back for our engine. Silktail and Alex went to store the new rations. After half an hour Silktail came into the engine room, shi padded up to me and placed a hand on my back.
"I can't tell you how happy I am. I couldn't believe it when you came onto the bridge this morning, but you're serious, aren't you?" shi asked.
"Of course I am," I replied while turning to face hir, "I have felt this way from the day I first saw you, but I didn't realize that until last night." I decided to let the big words out. I had opened my muzzle to say them, when Alex's voice boomed from the headsets.
"Dinner is served." He announced, "Would you care to join me outside?"
I wanted to continue, but shi put hir finger on my lips. "Shhh! Later!" shi said and smiled as shi turned around. I followed hir out.
Alex had managed quite a nice job. There was a fully set table, with fruits and vegetables we had found, and even some meats from our own store. It looked almost like a banquet.
We were well into the dinner when Silktail and I noticed a sweet aroma filter in from the woods. Since we didn't know anything about this planet, we both decided to look into its general direction and turned our gazes southward. There was a bush of flowers to be seen, just opening in the early evening gloom. We decided the scent was theirs and returned to the meal.
"Err, Captain, Z." - "Zwokkie". "I have some..." said Alex, and interrupted himself with a long yawn. "Excuse me. What I wanted to say..."
Silktail and I followed suit and yawned as well. It seemed to me that my vision was getting blurry. I decided to get up and walk a little, but realized soon that I could barely lift a paw. Silktail was in a similar bind and Alex suddenly slumped onto the ground.
My mind raced. That scent, almost overpowering us. That must be it, a sleeping gas of sorts. I tried to look around and saw Silktail was also on the ground. I found that my body responded to me with greater difficulty each breath. You see, a filter surrounding our cerebral area flters out any foreign substances before it actually affects my mind. So, while my body was getting numb, my mind raced on for a possible solution. All that I managed to do was order the ship's computer to seal up. I pressed the button just before I lost total control over my body. As my senses finally left me, I saw some figures heading towards us.
For a long time, there was only a black void...
To be continued in chapter 3.
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