"What the hell have we done to deserve this?"MayFurr ranted, as the second night of their stay on the planet arrived. Under the stars around their campfire Ranthe sat beside their 'guest', huddling close to the flickering flames, her ears flicked back as the other fox continued to rave. Luckily, the creature - whatever it was - has quietened down, and was even able to eat some of the bird meat they had managed to cook, but all this hadn't cooled MayFurr's temper.
"What the hell have we done to deserve this?" he shouted again. "We're chucked through what felt like seven dimensions of hell to somewhere we don't know, and now we're stuck on this god-forsaken planet with who-knows-what sort of native for company! What sort of justice IS this?"
Ranthe said nothing, bowing her head slightly to look into the flames of the fire as her companion continued to rave at the stars. She could understand his frustration, but... The vixen sighed to herself. MayFurr just wasn't helping the situation. Still, at least he was getting it out of his system, which was one thing.
She looked at the bound chakat, watching the reflections of the flickering campfire in its eyes. It certainly seemed intelligent, she thought... the growls and yowls it made was definitely some sort of language, but nothing she had heard before. And it understood enough of what was going on to not put up a struggle for the meal when they partially untied it.
"We should be able to communicate with it," Ranthe murmured to herself, "even if only we could get it to tell us where we are..."
Sundown watched the angry male fox out of the corner of hir eye as shi rested on hir side. Shi had been allowed to use hir hands to eat some of the food the vulpines had offered hir, but now shi was tied up again, unable to do much except roll from side to side. Sundown had noticed the bird hir captors had caught for dinner was one of the native pigeon-like birds that were protected under Chakona law, and as shi ate glumly thought that under normal circumstances shi would be prosecuted for eating it... Well, it wasn't as if hir 'hosts' were going to report hir to the park authorities or anything - on the contrary, it seemed as the last thing they wanted was to be discovered.
The chakat rolled into a semi upright position as much as shi could, hir lower legs aching and in desperate need of a good stretch after being bound for so long. The buckles on hir saddlebag shi still wore jingled as shi moved, the chakat stretching as much as shi could against hir unbreakable bonds... and noticed the vixen looking at hir again. The noise of hir bag suddenly inspired Sundown with an idea...
Hmmmm... it was gesticulating towards the saddlebag it wore on its lower torso, and making those odd noises. Maybe... "This? You want this? Something in here?" Ranthe asked.
"Come on.. come on," Sundown slowly spoke, having managed to attract the attention of the vixen. "The bag down there, my saddle bag... that's it, come on..."
Ranthe reached over the chakat to the saddlebag, and opened the pocket closest to her. It seemed to be filled with assorted camping-like artefacts, that much she could tell. Something that looked like an old-style camp stove, tins of various sorts with labels in a strange alien language, material that looked like a heavy-weave canvas, and a book or two among other things.
Seems harmless enough, Ranthe thought, and reached under the creature's belly looking for the buckle - and found none.
How on earth...
Of course! This creature simply couldn't reach under itself.
Kicking herself mentally, Ranthe turned her attention to the topof the saddlebag, and found the buckle clasp she was after. She released it, and pulled the leather saddlebag off of the chakat, examining it closely before untying its hands and handing the bag over.
Sundown smiled to hirself - all was working to plan so far. The vixen had only thought to check one pocket, and if shi could manage to discreetly open the other one in the darkness without either of the foxes noticing...
Ranthe jumped as MayFurr stormed back to the campfire. "What the hell are you doing, Ranthe? It's supposed to be tied up!"
The vixen stood up, her back to their captive for the moment. "It wanted something from the bag, and I've checked the contents- there's nothing harmful or dangerous in there. I'm not thatstupid..."
"Yeah - but what if it's got matches? Or a pocket knife?" MayFurr fumed. " It doesn't need to be a weapon to get free!"
"Okay, but - " Ranthe started, but was cut off by the sound of the bag dropping to the ground behind her. She whirled around -
- to find the chakat brandishing a tent pole with what looked to be a kitchen knife lashed to the end, trying to saw the rope around the bonds around its lower legs!
"Like THAT!" MayFurr growled, shoving past Ranthe to angrily try and wrest the pole from the creature's grip. The chakat struggled, its amazing upper body strength being more than a match for the male vulpine, slowly but surely winning the battle of wills. "Ranthe! Help me..." MayFurr gasped, "it's too bloody strong for me! Give me a hand - mmmpphh!"
Still smarting from MayFurr's rebuke, Ranthe nevertheless jumped to his assistance, grabbing the pole as well and tugging furiously. The creature's tail whipped around, thrashing at the foxes, trying to wrap around their arms but getting lost in the confusion...eventually though, MayFurr and Ranthe managed to wrest the makeshift cutter from the chakat's hands, tossing it away into the bush and dragging the creature's saddlebag well clear of its grasp.
The vixen kept an eye on the chakat as MayFurr proceeded to empty the contents of the saddlebag onto the dry red earth. "Shouldn't we tie its hands back up again, sir?" she asked, watching it rub at its wrists in an obvious attempt to get its circulation going again.
MayFurr considered for a moment, then shook his head. "Nah. I think it'll be okay. It can't reach its own legs by the look of things, else it would've simply tried to untie itself instead of making that cutter. I don't want to be too hard on it while we're here."
Sundown rubbed hir wrists in frustration more than anything, gritting hir teeth. Damn, hir plan was working well until the vixen's mate had noticed hir! Now shi had lost hir saddlebag along with any remaining tools shi had stored in there. Back to square one.
Or maybe not. The vixen was now studying hir a little more closely, and the male hadn't bothered to tie hir hands up again. That was odd... surely if hir captors were poachers, Sundown thought, they would've secured hir better after hir escape attempt, or worse, inflicted pain - but they didn't. Something was most unusual about these two.
Ranthe crouched down on her haunches, facing the chakat and studying it closely, her tail describing patterns in the dusty soil behind her. She was missing something, she was sure - something obvious in trying to communicate with the creature - it was certainly intelligent enough, that was clear to a kit - but what? And it seemed to have a fascination with her as well, returning her gaze and sniffing the air... probably it was as confused as they were.
MayFurr came up beside her in the flickering light, carrying a large blanket, which he carefully draped over the creature, staying well clear of its arms. "This should keep it warm," he said, turning to face his companion. "Do you think it'll be any more trouble tonight?"
Ranthe shook her head. "Don't think so," she answered, stretching her furred arms over her head and yawning. "Better get some sleep though."
MayFurr nodded, and walked with her back into the ship, leaving the blanket-clad chakat alone by the campfire, the flickering flames giving the 'taur a ghostly appearance in the deepening night.
Another morning, another new day.
MayFurr blinked as he opened the access hatch of the ship, the bright light of the sun hurting his eyes, even after being filtered by the lush tree canopy above them. He looked out over their campsite, sighing with relief as he saw the large covered form of their 'guest' in about the same place they had left it. Ranthe came up beside him, breathing in deeply, her nose twitching as she scented the clean fresh air of the forest. "Beautiful day."
"Yah." MayFurr grunted. "Feel better if we were on our way home though. Sorry," he quickly apologised. "It's just that - "
"I know sir," Ranthe gently reminded him.
"Yeah. Anyway... how's the nav comp doing?"
The vixen ran a paw through her head-fur, pushing past MayFurr and climbing down to the ground. "Still a couple of hours or so to go before we get a solution," she said. "No problems so far."
MayFurr smiled at that. "Great." he said, reaching into the ship to grab the phaser rifle and following Ranthe back to the smouldering campfire. "I'll get us some breakfast then- hopefully we won't need to be here for lunch!"
Sundown picked at hir morning meal - another of the protected local native pigeons, the "naa'ghazzi" as some early colonial wit had named it - and watched hir captors moving about their campsite. They seemed more expectant today for some reason, shi thought.
The vixen had taken the most notice of hir this morning, even going so far as to massage hir lower limbs in an attempt to ease the stiffening in hir bound legs, while the male had actually spread hir blanket on the ground and dragged hir onto it to make hir more comfortable. Sundown couldn't figure it out - yesterday shi had been tackled, dragged against hir will to this place, bound and tied, but today... they seemed to be positively nice to hir.
"Who are they?" shi wondered, murmuring to hirself. "They can't understand a word I say, and I can't understand them... the plane or whatever they've got here I've never seen before, and... and..."
Sundown struggled to think. Hir mind was working overtime, though the hunger pangs in hir tummy were distracting hir. One bird simply wasn't enough for a full-grown Chakat for breakfast, shi grumbled to hirself. But it was something simple, shi was sure, one simple observation that was eluding hir...
"That's it!" Sundown whispered triumphantly to hirself. "They don't scent like normal vulpines. But what does that mean...?"
Ranthe was bored.
There wasn't much to do until the nav comp had finished its calculations. While that wasn't too far off happening, it was the sort of wait that you felt you had to be around for when the wait finally ended. A glance over to the ship showed her companion stretched out by the hatch, his hat slid over his eyes and muzzle. The vixen sighed to herself, leaning up against a tree, looking at their 'guest' scratching and fiddling with some twigs.
"It looks as bored as I am," Ranthe murmured to herself, picking up a twig of her own and mindlessly tracing it over the ground, the tip making random patterns in the dirt.
A bark from the creature got her attention, and she looked up. It gestured to her, beckoning her to come over to it - it seemed excited about something, and was making those funny growling noises she presumed was its language. "What now?" she groaned irritably, picking herself up and brushing the dust off her jumpsuit before walking cautiously over to the creature. "And don't think that trick you tried before is gonna work again - I'm not carrying anything this time."
Ranthe wandered closer and crouched down, taking care to stay out of reach of its powerful arms. The chakat seemed to smile, holding one hand up, before pointing to the ground before it. The vixen looked down, and saw a cleared area in the dirt, on which had been traced various shapes - a circle, a smaller circle with lines radiating from it, a picture of the ship...
"Good heavens..." Ranthe breathed. The creature was trying to communicate - by drawing pictures!
As she watched, the chakat pointed to itself, then the circle, repeating the actions a few times. Ah - so the circle was the planet, and this was the creatures home. No surprise there. "Okay...so if that means you are here, then... " Ranthe pointed to the picture of the ship, then to herself, again repeating the actions the same way the creature had done. The chakat seemed to nod, copying her actions and grinning.
It seemed to be working, Sundown thought to hirself. The vixen understood hir trying to relate that this planet was hir home, and that she and the other fox were from the ship - and it also seemed their gestures for "yes" were the same. Great!
"Let's see - what next. Ah!" shi said to hirself, and pointed first at the vixen, then to the ship, then the star-shape. "You - in this - from here?"
The vixen nodded, and repeated hir actions. A twinge of excitement ran through the chakat's body at a sudden realisation, and shi scrutinised the vixen before hir more closely, as if seeing her for the first time. Now, upon further examination, Sundown noticed the differences this fox and her mate had compared to the other fox-based races shi had met - different shaped ears, less pronounced teeth and more paw-like hands - and mentally kicked hirself for not realising this before. Sundown smiled in response to the vixen, though inside shi felt hir gut tighten in excitement as hir suspicions were confirmed. "So that's why they don't smell right or anything," shi breathed through clenched teeth, "they're not Terran recoms or Voxxans at all!"
So they were alien - not only to Chakona, but also to the other worlds which chakat-kind had visited, Sundown thought to hirself. These two didn't look the type to be explorers though, and they certainly weren't overeager to venture further from the craft they'd arrived in. Ever since the chakat had been captured, apart from the male heading off foraging for food occasionally, hir captors hadn't left the area. So what were they doing here?
Now the vixen was drawing in the dirt. Sundown watched as she cleared a bigger area from twigs, brushing it smooth, before inscribing circles and curves outwards in a line from the circle shi had drawn. Another picture of the ship - then the vixen brushed part of it out, altering the outlines, then tracing the path back to the original circle. "Ahhh... your ship broke, and you landed here for repairs," shi nodded, copying the gestures, then pointing to the ship, the dozing male, and her. The fox nodded, smiling as well.
Sundown considered this for a few moment, running hir hand under hir snub muzzle, thinking. Hir curiosity was tweaked by this exchange, but the chakat had more pressing matters to attend to like getting untied... and a particularly unpleasant need for relief in hir hind-quarters that had been slowly but insistently building for the last day or so. Hir lower legs were still securely tied together, but shi needed to just go into the trees for a few moments to deal with it. Now how the hell was shi going to communicate THAT?
MayFurr pushed the hat off his muzzle, blinking up into the light at the sound of Ranthe's voice. "Hey yourself... what's up?"
"I think I'm getting somewhere with communicating with the creature!" she called out, her voice tinged with excitement. "Using pictures in the dirt - I don't know why we didn't think of it before!"
MayFurr sat up slowly. "That's why we're fighter pilots, not First Contact Specialists," he grinned. "So what have you found out so far?"
Ranthe's ears flicked back a little. "Not much," she admitted, brushing her head-fur out of her eyes and waving some small insistent insects from around her muzzle, "But it's looking promising."
The fox's attention was diverted by sudden urgent gestures from the chakat. "Hey - what's it doing now, Ranthe? I can't see properly from here..."
"It's pointing at it's lower legs, at the rope... no, wait..."
"I think it wants to go into the bushes."
MayFurr blinked. "It wants to what?"
"Sir, I think its - awwww, hell!"
He sat up, bolt upright. "What's it done now?"
Ranthe screwed up her muzzle in disgust, fanning the air around her face, groaning. Beside her, the chakat had a similar expression on its face, tinged with what almost looked like embarrassment.
"Sir, trust me - you don't want to know..."
The sun had almost reached its peak as MayFurr tied the end of the rope to a convenient sapling, standing back and grinning with satisfaction.
After labouring at cleaning up the accident with the chakat, MayFurr had grudgingly agreed to Ranthe's suggestion that the creature be even less bound and able to move. Now, the chakat was tied only by one of its hind-legs to the tree, letting it roam as far as the stub-wing of the ship, a short way into the bushes, and to the campfire - while still being restrained from going any further. MayFurr had been careful not to leave anything resembling an escape tool in the area, and Ranthe had appeared to convey to the creature that they meant it no harm if it did not try to escape. Not that he really trusted that, MayFurr thought, if I was in its shoes I'd still be trying to escape... but Ranthe was right, as he'd said before there wasn't any point in being unnecessarily cruel to it.
For hir part, Sundown was feeling relieved, in more ways than one... shi felt disgusted with hirself at what happened, but shi just couldn't have held on anymore, and was profoundly embarrassed at having to be cleaned up like a helpless baby cub. Still, at least shi could stand up now and move about, even if there was that reminder of hir captivity on hir left hind-leg. The chakat flexed hir legs, grunting with satisfaction as shi worked the stiffness out of hir joints and muscles, pawing the ground to get hir legs working properly again. The vixen was standing beside hir, rubbing hir sides and back, looking up into hir face and making reassuring motions while the male was working beside the campfire preparing a meal.
A soft chime came from the interior of the ship, causing MayFurr to prick his ears up.
"That's the nav computer, sir" Ranthe called out. "It's finished working out our position. I'll go and check it if you like."
MayFurr nodded. "Sure," he said, standing up from where he'd been crouching by the makeshift spit over the fire. "I'll carry on here - you let me know when we've got a course plotted for home." The vixen walked briskly towards the ship, disappearing inside through the open hatch, while the chakat wandered over towards him, its paws softly padding over the loose dusty brick-red soil.
He sat down by the fire again, turning the bird on the spit over the flickering flames, looking up at the imposing bulk of the creature next to him. Up close, and with it standing, he wondered how he'd ever managed to bring it down in the forest in the first place - it was huge! It stood almost as tall as he did, and it's lower body was about as long again, thickly muscled and covered in a soft tawny-reddish fur from the tip of its tail to the top of its head, with few other markings. As if it sensed his curiosity, the creature placed its hands on its waist, striking a pose for him to see all of it in the best possible light. In a way, it was strangely attractive...
MayFurr caught himself staring at the creature's generous breasts on its upper body, and forced himself to look away, provoking what he would almost think as a snigger or giggle from the creature behind him.
"It's not my fault you look so feminine," the fox muttered to himself, trying to ignore the creature. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you were trying to tease me."
Feeling rather foolish, he put the cooked bird to one side and went to the ship, wondering why Ranthe was taking so long.
Sundown grinned to hirself. The male certainly wasn't much different to other vulpine shi had known elsewhere, particularly when it came to hir figure. She allowed hirself a quiet laugh as the fox, suitably humiliated for now, stalked off towards their ship with his tail between his legs.
MayFurr entered the ship, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the relative darkness of the cabin. "Ranthe? How's it going? Are we ready to leave?"
The vixen turned in the chair, resting a paw on the console, facing him. He noticed tears running down her face fur as she brushed her matted head-fur away from her face again.
"Ranthe? What's the matter?"
She gestured to the display, and answered in a small voice that quavered and broke.
"Sir... we can't go home..."
Continue to Chapter 3
Copyright 1996 Terry Knight.
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