Shadows and Light
Retribution Part 1
By StarShadow © 2001
"I am become death, the shatterer of worlds."
"The galaxy at the moment is balanced on a knife edge, as delicate as a line of dominoes. Terra is the first world to begin to topple, and unfortunately, Chakona is right behind it."
- anonymous skunktaur, after seeing the Humans First riot on Terra.
My kind do not have much need for sleep, and it is never a deep slumber. A part of our minds is always awake, always listening. This is how I am able to hear the footsteps heading towards my quarters late one night. I am about to dismiss it and go back to sleep, until I listen more closely. I have heard these footsteps before. Knowing where those footsteps will end, I open my eyes and wait, facing away from the door. Sure enough, I soon hear a knock. "Come in", I chime. I hear the doors open, and the footsteps enter the room, stopping in the middle of the floor.
"Hello SilverStreak", I say.
"How did you know it was me?" shi asks.
"Your footsteps", I reply. "You still have that limp from skydiving last month."
I get down from my perch on the ceiling and take my first look at my visitor, a young chakat with an almost metallic-silver coat, except for occasional white streaks, hence the name. After looking and listening to hir for a while longer, I remark, "Your heartbeat seems to be remarkably high for someone who walked here. What have you been doing?"
"You obviously haven't heard the news then", shi replies.
"Darkern came back from his 6-week leave this afternoon."
"I didn't know", I say. "I was out on patrol."
"Anyway, I had finished my work assignments for the day", shi continues, "So we decided to go back to our quarters and celebrate".
I'll bet, I think. When a chakat and hir lifemate have been apart for that long, you can expect the celebration to be long and enjoyable, if you catch my drift.
"If that's the case", I ask, "then why are you here instead of celebrating with Darkern?"
"I needed to talk to you first".
"Ok then, sit down".
Shi walks over to my bed and lies down on it, while I pull up a chair beside hir so we're still at eye level.
"So what did you want to talk about?" I ask.
Shi takes a breath and frowns deeply, as if coming to a decision, then gives a short nod.
"Did you see the broadcast this afternoon?"
I lean back against my chair. Humans First has made one its anti-morph propaganda broadcasts. I could see where this was going.
"I saw some of it", I reply.
SilverStreak suddenly bends over as if in pain, sobbing uncontrollably and shaking like a leaf. Chakats are very emotional creatures, but are also incredibly happy and optimistic, especially SilverStreak. The broadcast must have cut hir deeply for hir react like this, but why? I place a hand on hir shoulder to try and comfort hir, but this only causes hir to cry louder.
"What's wrong Silver, what's happened", I ask, with my hand still of hir shoulder. I am starting to get to get worried. This is not normal chakat behaviour.
"I'll get a medic for you", I say, rushing towards the com.
"No!" shi cries, the first words shi's said. "No, no medics. It's all right."
Indeed, shi does seem to be regaining control, but shi is still shaking uncontrollably.
"What's happened?" I ask again, sitting next to hir on the bed and putting my arm around hir. "Do you want to talk about it?"
My touch seems to calm hir down, as shi snuggles up to my side and leans hir head on my shoulder. We stay like that for a little while me stroking hir hair, until shi says, "I shouldn't have reacted like that."
"It's all right", I whisper. "It's all right."
"It was the broadcast that made me so anxious", shi replies.
"I could see that", I say, "but 'anxious' doesn't really cover it. What was it about the broadcast that made you react like that?"
"I'm not sure", is hir answer. "It's not like I haven't heard their propaganda before. But when I heard what those... humans were saying, that chakats are nothing more than genetically engineered freaks, just hormone crazed lunatics following our inherited programming, I just lost it".
"But you've heard this all before, and it's never really affected", I offer. "What was it this time around that made you so upset?"
There were tears in hir eyes.
"I was thinking, what if we are just following our programming, what if we are just freaks of nature, what if we've been wasting our lives all this time..."
Shi breaks off, unable to continue, and begins to cry on my shoulder.
"Silver, you know that's not true", I say, desperately trying to pull hir out of the emotional well shi has pulled hirself into. But all shi does is shake hir head and whisper, "Yes it is, yes it is", over and over.
"Silver, I want you to listen to me", I repeat more forcefully.
Shi stops hir chanting for a moment and looks at me with tear-filled eyes.
"Silver", I continue, "I've known chakats for a long time, and all I've discovered it that chakats are happy, intelligent creatures. You love life and your goal in life is to make others love life as much as you do. Anyone who doesn't believe that is either a fool or a liar. That's all there is to it."
"But how can you believe that? How can anyone believe that..." shi breaks off, threatening to return to the depths of hir emotions once again. Another approach to the situation is needed.
"How can I make you believe me?" I plead.
"I don't know", shi replies. "I don't know".
I lift hir chin so I am looking into hir eyes. "Silver, I love you".
I bring hir face closer to mine and kiss hir. I think for a second that shi might push me away, but instead shi puts hir arms around me and pulls me in closer, returning the kiss with hir own. It is not a passionate kiss as much as it is a sharing of friendships, a connection between brother and sister. We both have large lungs but eventually have to come up for air.
"Feeling better now?" I ask.
"Much better Shadow, thank you", shi smiles. " You don't know how much I wanted someone to say that".
"Why couldn't you talk to Darkern?" I say. "He could have handled it much better than I did".
"I just couldn't talk to him about this", shi replies. "It's hard to explain."
"I see". After looking at hir for a moment, I say, "There's something else, isn't there? I can see it in you eyes."
"Yes", shi answers, "there is something else".
I wait patiently for hir to continue. Shi takes another breath, making another decision. I hope it isn't as perilous as the last.
"The reason that I have reacted so badly to the broadcast is that..."
Shi closes hir eyes for a second then looks me straight in the eye. I can tell from the look in those blue eyes of hirs that this is something important.
"This afternoon, Darkern asked to be the sire of my cub".
"Silver, that's wonderful!" I stand up and give hir a deep hug. "I'm so happy for you. You had to have said yes".
"Well..." shi says.
"You didn't?" This is totally unexpected. "What's wrong, you don't think you are ready for a cub?"
"No! Never, I've always wanted a cub, I've dreamed about it all my life. It's not that".
"Then what is it?" I smile, "Don't tell me, you haven't gotten over your undying affection for me, is that it?"
"You!" is hir answer, giving me a bit of a punch on the shoulder. "You could never take anything seriously". Shi still has a delighted smile in hir face.
"Seriously then, what's the matter?"
"Well, when I was watching those... humans making that speech, I wondered, 'How can I bring a cub into the world knowing what shi will be facing?' How can I justify doing that?"
"Silver, it's not just that we have to worry about", I reply. "We can't let those bigots control our lives, that's exactly what they want. If they stop us doing what is natural, doing what is right, then they have won."
"Do you think shi will be safe?" shi asks, as I sit down next to hir once again.
"I know shi will", I reply, "because shi will have a kind and caring mother, a brave sire, and a wise godsire".
Shi sees the smile on my face. "Are you serious Shadow, would you really be hir godsire?"
"Of course I would Silver, our parents did the same thing to us, after all. I always thought it would be good if I were the god parent to your children, and you to mine".
"All right Shadow, you've convinced me", shi says. "As soon as I get back to my quarters, I'm going to tell Darkern that I want to have his cub. How does that sound?"
"That sounds great", I reply.
"Oh Shadow, you don't know how happy you've made me!" Despite my considerable size, shi is still able to pick me up and spin me around and around.
"From the way you're reacting, people would think I was siring your cub".
Shi gets the hint and puts me down. "You know, I don't have to tell Darkern right away". Shi gives me a seductive smile. "I could always spend the night here, if you want".
"It certainly wouldn't be the first time", I reply. This is true. "But I think you should give Darkern the good news".
"I guess I'll just have to settle for another kiss", shi says.
Shi brings my face to hir's and kisses me again. I wrap my wings around hir upper body and hold hir there for a while, after which shi releases me and heads for the door.
"Thank you, brother StarShadow", shi says, before opening the door and closing it behind hir.
"You're welcome, sister SilverStreak", I think.
I stand there staring at the door for a while, before going back to sleep on my perch. I was happy for SilverStreak, after all the trials shi has been through, shi's finally found hir place. I drift off into unconsciousness with a huge smile on my face.
My name is StarShadow. Me and others like me are known as valkyrie, but you humans would call us bat-morphs.
Don't take that the wrong way, I'm not a vampire or anything like that, although I do have fangs. We share some things with our ancestors, our large wings for example, and our tendency to sleep to upside down. However, we're comfortable omnivores, and we're usually about five to six feet tall. Our sense of smell is quite mediocre, just as bad as humans', but our sight is good, especially at night, when we can see into infra-red, and our hearing, as you would imagine, is unsurpassed. Because of our intrinsic relationship with the sky, we are well known as pilots and flight designers and engineers.
SilverStreak, as you know, is a chakat. Chakats are feline-taurs with many unique characteristics, but the most interesting is that all chakats are hermaphrodites. I've known Silver all my life. We were born in the same hospital, on the same day, at almost the same time. My parents, NightShade and GreySky have known hir parents, SnowLight and Twilight for years. This is why my parents are hir godparents, and vice-versa. Soon after we were born, they got to know each other so well, that they all became mutual lifemates, making me and Silver brother and sister, or brother and sibling, if you want to be accurate.
At the moment, Silver and I are on the exploration ship Joseph Banks, in orbit around Chakona, Silver's and my homeworld. Tomorrow is Freedom Celebration, one of the most important days on the Chakonan calendar, when the whole planet forgets their worries for a day and celebrate lives and lovers. Unfortunately this does not apply to us in orbit, as we are leaving on our latest tour of duty tomorrow night and there's work to be done. In compromise, the powers that be gave the crew the afternoon off, but this only applies to non-essential personnel. How much free time technicians like me and Silver get all depends on how quickly we can finish our pre-launch work assignments. This tour looks likely to be an interesting one. Our job is usually to provide support for exploration crews on the planet, placed there by other StarCorps vessels, and to continue and assist with the preliminary work that they have started while their mother ship travels elsewhere. This time around, we are doing back-up work for the SES Magellan, but there are rumours that we may be working with the James Cook in the future.
The morning after my conversation with SilverStreak, I wake up thrilled to be alive. I know many species, humans and chakats included, wake up slowly and take a while before their brains really start up. Valkyries are the exact opposite, open our eyes, stretch our wings, and off we go.
"Computer, what are my assignments for today?"
The female, monotone voice of the ship's computer replies. "You have three major tasks. One: help confirm flight path out of the Chakastra system with the navigation team. Two: receive system analysis results on Shuttle Resolution from systems technician."
I smile, this just happens to be Silver.
"Three: test flight of said shuttle over Chakona."
"That reminds me, I'm getting a new co-pilot today," I thought.
I put on my blue jacket and black trousers, similar to those that other technicians wear, except for the subtle dark blue line on the shoulders, and the gold wings I wear on my chest, the uniform of a senior pilot.
I quickly make my way to the ship's mess hall. This vessel has a small but tight-knit crew, and the small but well equipped mess hall is where most of us socialise. I was hoping that my friends would have already arrived and sure enough, Silver is at a table eating breakfast along with our other friends Kyle and Myka. I get one of my favourite treats, a stack of pancakes with honey. Silver waves me over to hir table, and I sit down next to hir, opposite Kyle, a human 'jack of all trades' and Myka, a female cheetah-taur security officer. Myka happens to be Silver's denmate of many years, but has been staying with Kyle lately because they haven't seen each other for a while. Now that everyone is back, I hope that everything will get back to normal.
"So how is life treating you guys?" I ask.
"Pretty good", Kyle says, "Myka and I just spent the night quietly".
"Though I've been saying that me not hearing them 'coz of the soundproofing doesn't count as quiet", Silver adds.
"And how about you", I say. "Better off than last night?"
"Much better thanks", shi replies. "I can't thank you enough for helping me with my decision". Shi gives me a quick hug which I promptly return.
"What decision? Myka asks, totally mystified.
"You didn't tell her?" I say to Silver.
"I was going to wait until Darkern got back. Trust me Myka, it's worth the wait."
"Where is our esteemed colleague anyway?" I ask.
"Still in bed", Silver replies, "he said he has some things to do before breakfast."
"Probably still recovering from last night", I say under my breath.
Silver spits out "Bitch!" and slaps me on the shoulder, hir outraged tone the exact opposite of the cheesy, lop-sided grin on hir face. Sometimes I forget how good a chakat's hearing is.
As I think this, Darkern decides to make his appearance. Darkern, or Dark as we call him, has been Silver's lifemate for many years, almost as long as Myka. He is a wolf-taur mechanic with a strange sense of humour. He's known Kyle and Myka for ages, and he and Silver met at one of Kyle's famous (or infamous) birthday parties. The rest, as they say, is history. He sits down next to Silver, they both smile and wrap their tails around each other. They had obviously reconciled quite well late night. Now the team was complete. Because of our intricate web of relationships, us five (and maybe six depending on the co-pilot, but I'm not that lucky) had successfully applied to be counted as one work team, an increasingly common idea in StarCorps, as larger teams are much happier and more efficient.
"OK Silver, Darkern's here", Myka says excitedly. "What's the big news?"
"I'll do the honours", shi replies. "Dark and I have decided to have a cub".
"That's wonderful!" Myka cries out, and Silver and Dark both get huge hugs by Kyle and Myka.
"What are you going to call hir?" Myka asks.
"You know what?", Dark says, "we have no idea whatsoever."
"Well you two are going to busy soon, at any rate," I remark. Despite their optimism, there is only a low chance of a chakat and a wolf-taur conceiving, but I know that Silver and Dark can beat the odds.
Myka turns to Silver and says to hir, "When do you go into heat next?"
"In seven days, as a matter of fact."
"Really," I add, "that means that your first cub might be conceived on an almost totally unexplored planet. Now that's an interesting anecdote."
We can only talk about any one topic for so long, even if it is such a joyful one, and we soon return to our usual chit-chat and little stories. Someone on the other side of the mess hall activates the big TV panel on the wall, and flicks it over to CNN (Chakona News Network). As expected, the headline news is on the recent broadcast by the Humans First supremacist group.
"Someone turn that crap off!" an angry skunktaur says, a temporary crewmember from the planet. It is quickly switched off.
"I can't believe that those... humans have the sheer arrogance to come to a world inhabited by furs and peddle their destructive wares".
"We shouldn't talk about it", Dark states. "The more we say about them, the more publicity they get."
"I agree", hy replies. "Action is much better than words. If those humans don't like us, we should do the galaxy a favour and kick all of them off the planet!"
"What the hell are you talking about!" Kyle rises to his feet. "Are you saying that every single human on Chakona should leave?!"
"Well it would certainly take care of the problem!" hy says.
"Not all humans are bigots!" Kyle replies angrily.
"If that's true, then prove it," the skunktaur says with hys arms crossed over hys chest.
"I'll show you proof", Kyle adds, and then in typical Kyle-like fashion, he walks over to Myka, takes her head in his hands and kisses her passionately on the lips.
They stay like that for a second, until Myka pushes him away and shouts, "How dare you kiss me like that!"
I hear a few gasps among the crowd, but Silver, Dark and I just sit there with amused grins. We know where this is going. Not to be outdone, Myka wraps her arms around Kyle and pulls him up against her, kissing him twice as hard. The crowd erupts into wolf-whistles and applause, which continues well after they both come up for air and sit back down, or at least Kyle does, 'taurs don't need to sit.
"I always knew you two were exhibitionists," I remark, "but that was certainly one of your more interesting performances."
Myka gives me her most wicked smile. "You should see us at night."
"We have Myka", we all reply in unison, laughing at the absurdity of the statement.
"I'd love to sit there shooting the breeze, but I've got a shuttle to test", I say. "Which reminds me," I add, turning to Silver. "Do you have the report on the shuttle?"
"Oh, I almost forgot." She takes a memory card out of hir jacket pocket and hands it to me. I place it into a padd I carry around, all I am interested in is the final prognosis.
"100% on systems, good." I say to Dark, "Any problems with the shuttle, mechanics-wise?"
"The port engine nacelle is still on the drongo side, but that's just her ways of saying she's ready to fly."
"I'll take good care of her for you", I reply.
"Where are you going with Resolution today?" Myka ask.
"Nowhere in particular, I was thinking of going around central Amistad and looking at the street parade."
"Lucky bum," Silver says, "We won't be able to get down to the surface until mid-afternoon, if ever."
"But it won't take that long to finish up, will it?"
"It'll take that long to get transport down to the surface", Kyle replies.
"Tell you what", I say, "once I finish up, I'll fly back to the Banks, and you guys can pile on Resolution and we'll fly back down to Amistad, how's that sound?"
"That sounds fantastic", Dark says. "We might get some R&R in today. But will the chief engineer allow it?"
I smile at that. "I'm sure Jeff will give us some leeway." Jeff Evans, our 'chief', was a good bloke. He knows us, and we know him.
"So what plans do you have for tonight?"
Myka gives me another of her guilty smiles. "We were thinking my quarters, 2000 hours, bring a friend, and check your rank and uniform at the door."
"Since the only friends I could bring are you guys and girls", I laugh, "I don't see the point of that. Other than that though, sounds like fun."
"My dear valkyrie, fun doesn't even begin to describe it", Silver says. "We are talking serious excitement. Nothing short of a life-changing experience can cover it."
"In that case, I'll be sure to come." I get out of my chair. "Unfortunately, I've got a date I have to keep, and I'm already late. I'll see you furs this afternoon."
"See ya mate", Kyle says as I head for the door.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do", Myka adds. Considering the things that Myka will do, that's quite a statement. I have a huge smile on my face all the way to the chief engineer's office.
I stick my head through the door. "Flight Tech 1st StarShadow reporting in, sir."
Chief Evans smiles up from his desk. "How many times have I told you to call me Jeff?" he replies as I walk in.
"Would you prefer Sir Jeff as a compromise?" I smile.
"Only when you're in trouble. I'd like to introduce you to your new co-pilot, Chakat WarmBreeze."
It is only now that I notice the chakat that had been in the room when I entered. Shi doesn't look shy, shi has a massive grin on hir face after all, just cautious.
"Hi, I'm WarmBreeze, child of TreeSpirit and SunShine."
"I'm StarShadow, child of GreySky and NightShade."
"Pleased to meet you," shi replies, giving me a quick hug. Shi obviously loses that cautiousness quickly. A stray thought bounces around in my head, "My, shi is a cute one", before I concentrate back on Jeff. I say to myself, "There's plenty of time for proper introductions later," then part of me replies, "What the hell am I thinking?!"
"So, are we ready to go?" shi asks Jeff.
"Just get the keys from security and you'll be right."
"That reminds me", I add, "mind if I hang onto the shuttle this afternoon? I want to take Silver and the rest down to the surface."
"I don't know, we might need it again." He sees the expression on my face.
"Had you going for a second, didn't I", he laughs. "Just bring it back in one piece."
"You know I will, so stop acting like it's a big deal, Sir Jeff."
"See you later," Jeff says, the smile ever present on his face. "Oh wait," he adds abruptly, "are you going to take WarmBreeze with you this 'arvo?"
"What makes you think I wouldn't have", I reply. I turn to WarmBreeze. "Unless you don't want to go, that is."
"No, I'd love to go!" shi says excitedly.
"Let's get out of here then," I say, taking hir by the hand and leading hir to the door. "The sooner we get this done, the more time we have this afternoon. Later, Jeff."
I let go of hir hand as we walk to security. "So what's your story, WarmBreeze?" I ask.
"Just call me Breeze, StarShadow", shi smiles.
"As long as you call Shadow. But you haven't answered, what brings you to Chakona?"
"I've always loved going to Chakona", shi replies. "Even if Terra is my homeworld."
"Ever been down during Freedom?"
"Only once. It's always my favourite time of the year."
"Well, you're in for a treat today", I say.
"I'll bet," she replies. There was something odd about how shi said that.
We walk a bit longer in silence, allowing me to consider my current predicament in more detail. I have met many chakats in the past, but I have never had the same first impression that I experienced with Breeze. Maybe it's the colour of hir fur, a warm yellow with patches of chocolate brown, which I feel like I've seen before somewhere. Maybe it is the way shi greeted me in Jeff's office. "I don't think shi's in heat", I think, not that it would affect me, a valkyrie's sense of smell is almost as bad as a human's. I check hir heart beat just to make sure. Sometimes valkyries can pick up a heartbeat change in female GE's. "She doesn't seem to be," I continue. Another part of me says, "Maybe you should be thankful that you feel like this about anyone, instead of wondering why."
"You're not thinking about me, are you?" Breeze asks. I realise that she has been trying to get my attention for a while. There is something about she asked that question that convinces me to play a hunch and be honest.
"As a matter of fact I was, why, were you thinking about me?"
As we neared the security office shi replies, "Actually, I was thinking about Jeff."
After seeing the weird expression on my face, shi bursts out laughing and slaps me on the back. "I could tell that you were a joker!"
"Perhaps," I reply, "but then again, so are you." Shi just smiles at that. Again, there is something about that smile I found interesting, as if shi has known me for years, instead of the five minutes that we have seen each other for. Maybe Jeff has something more in mind than create a new piloting team.
We reach the door of the security office and open it, seeing a familiar face at the front desk.
"Hi Luci", I say.
"Hey Shady," Luci replies. Luci is a human female whose teenage looks conceal her experience and training.
"How's it going," I ask.
"It's pretty quiet today, as you'd imagine", she replies. "About the only thing we'll be doing today is drag pissed chakats back to their quarters." We all chuckle at the very idea. Chakats have such a high tolerance for alcohol, that for a chakat to become drunk would require amounts that would kill most other creatures.
"So what ya doing here?" Luci asks.
"Taking Resolution out for a test drive," I reply.
"All right then, lets see."
She rummages around for a second before pulling out a key card and handing it to me.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"You know, you're the second person to say that to me this morning."
"Let me guess, Myka?" she replies.
"Uh huh. Before I forget, Breeze this is Luci, security extraordinaire. Luci, this is WarmBreeze, my new co-pilot."
Both Luci and Breeze make their introductions before Luci suddenly blurts out, " Damn, I almost forgot. Sammy said he has something to give you."
"Really," I reply, "did he say what?"
"No, but he did say it was something you had to relay to Kyle, and that you can't say anything to Dark, Silver or Myka."
"Is that so? OK, we'll have to see him then."
Breeze and I head towards the door. "Later, Luci."
"Later Shadow. Hope to see you again, Breeze."
"Me, too. So who's Sammy?" Breeze asks.
"Sam is the Bank's deck officer. He's responsible for any ship that leaves or enters the Joseph Banks." We head towards the flight control station, where Sammy an the rest of flight control supervise the flight decks.
When we arrive, we find him hard at work, not surprising considering the amount of shuttle traffic today. Because of tomorrow's launch, cargo ships are busy hauling supplies of every description.
We walk in, and Breeze gets hir first look at Sam, an old but active kangaroo.
"Hey Sammy, give yourself time to breathe", I call out.
He gives a tight smile but stays at his workstation.
"Sorry, can't talk now," he replies. "Some idiot stalled his bomb of a shuttle before landing, and I have to tractor him in. OK, almost there... done."
He transfers tractor control to the bridge and faces us for the first time. " 'S been a busy day, me boy. Shuttles and carriers flying everywhere, most of them run by cargo companies that wouldn't know a decent pilot if one were beamed into their laps."
"How about my team? Any problems?" I add, referring to the pilots assigned to the banks, instead of the civilians. Although Breeze and I are the only permanent shuttle pilots, the shuttle team that I lead consists of 4 or 5 flying pairs, me and Breeze being one of them.
"Actually, they did rather well", Sammy replied. "A few glitches here and there, but we got a good bunch this time." He starts rummaging around the pockets of his flight suit.
"Before I forget, I have something to give to you." He hands me a small, brightly wrapped box, about five centimetres in length. "Kyle asked me to look after it for him."
"What is it?" I ask, staring at the box as if I can perceive its contents that way.
"Not a clue, but I bet it's important. Make sure you look after it." He turns to Breeze.
"So you must be the new co-pilot", he says, suddenly changing the subject.
"Yes, my name's WarmBreeze", shi replies as Sam gives hir a firm handshake. Shi skips the usual welcome, shi can obviously see that this is not the sort of guy that enjoys hugs.
"I'll tell you the same thing I've told all the new furs. As long as you respect the shuttles, respect your workmates, and respect me, we'll do fine. Other than that, keep your eyes on your mission, your scopes, and your wingfur."
"I will", shi replies, obviously taking the advice to heart.
"Are we okay to fly?" I ask.
"I don't see why not", he replies. "It's a bit hectic at the moment, but I'll get you bumped up."
"That's okay, I think it'll take that long to get Resolution started up anyway. See you later Sam."
"Later," he replies as we walk towards the bay where Resolution is kept.
We take an elevator down to the flight deck, small compared to shuttle bays on other ships.
"As you probably know", I say to Breeze, "we have four shuttles attached to the Joseph Banks." We enter the flight deck and towards the shuttle.
"We have two scout ships, the Resolution with upgraded shields and engines, and the Endeavour with improved sensors and a short range transporter. We also have two cargo/personnel shuttles, the Sydney and the Phillip."
"Is this the Resolution?" shi asks, looking at the shuttle in front of us.
"Yes, say hello to Rebecca."
"Rebecca? You've given the shuttle a name?" shi replies sceptically.
"Not just me, the mechanics, the technicians... It's the most reliable, most durable shuttle this side of Terra. When you spend time with her, you'll understand why we like her so much."
"Then let's give her a test flight," shi smiles. "Maybe she'll grow on me quickly."
I open the side door and we both climb inside. I place my ID in the pilot's station of the shuttle, the shuttle loads my specs and drops the seat down and back to accommodate my larger frame. WarmBreeze inserts hir card into hir station, the controls elevate and the seat moves out of the way completely.
"All right", I say, putting on a headset, "let's get this old girl started. Start pre-flight sequence, I'll go up back and check on the drive."
"Yes, sir", shi replies, putting on another headset.
"You gone into work mode or something?" I smile at hir. "Like Jeff said, no sirs here unless you're in trouble."
Breeze gives me a wry grin. "No problem, Sir Shadow."
I just shake my head my head and head up back, saying to myself something that I will find myself repeating many times in the future, "This is one odd chakat."
When I return, shi has completed most of the pre-flight checklist, but I can see that shi has also done some pre-flight preparation of hir own. Hir usually loose-flowing hair has been tied back in a tight ponytail and shi is wearing some shin pads to protect against bumps and bruises. Shi is also wearing a pair of black flight gloves. As I walk shi throws me another pair.
"Can't have a pilot without gloves."
I sit down in the pilot's seat and start up the power core while Breeze closes and seals the shuttle doors.
"OK, power up the engines," I say.
"Roger that," shi replies, flicking the ignition switch. The starboard engine warms up beautifully, but the port engine... is still not working.
"We have a no-light on port nacelle, I'm trying again," shi says.
I already know that the engine will not start, but it has to be tried. I hear the engine rev up a few times, but it didn't light.
"I guess that's the end of this mission", Breeze sighs.
"Why do you say that?" I ask curiously.
"It's going to take all day getting a mechanic to look at the engine."
"Who said anything about mechanics?" I say, unstrapping myself from the chair and opening the shuttle doors. Breeze gives me a curious expression.
"I already know what the problem is. Get the hammer and follow me, you'll want to see this".
I place the port engine on auto-start and join hir outside.
"You ever heard of percussive maintenance?" I ask hir.
"Yesss..." shi replies, "but what are you going to do, whack the thing until it starts working?"
"Exactly", I say, and with that I put my head up to the nacelle, trusting my sensitive ears to detect any problems with the engine. I slowly move up and down the engine.
"There we are, listen to that", I say to Breeze, pointing at a spot. Shi puts hir ears up to the engine.
"The vibrations in that area don't match," shi agrees, "but how can we fix it?"
I motion for hir to move over. "Let's see if I still know how to do this," I say, taking the hammer.
I tap the engine lightly a few times to test the hammer, then brought it down on the engine with a resounding clang. The engine suddenly bursts to life.
"There we go", I say, climbing back into the shuttle. Breeze joins me and seals the doors.
"I'll call for clearance to depart." shi says. "Flight control, this is Shuttle Resolution, requesting clearance to depart."
"Resolution", I hear Sammy reply, "you are clear to depart. Clear skies."
"Thank you control", I add. "Ok Breeze, release docking clamps and power anti-gravs."
We ease off the flight deck, and leave the Joseph Banks without a flutter.
I lock Resolution onto an auto-pilot into the atmosphere and then lean back into the chair.
"So Breeze, tell me about yourself."
"But there's so much to tell", shi exaggerates, "Where should I start?"
"How about where you were born, where you were raised."
"All right", shi replies. "I was born in space actually, on the passenger liner that took my parents to their new home on Earth. We settled in Brisbane, Australia, where we lived until I was sixteen. After that, we moved to Bangkok, Thailand, where my parents still live today, along with my sister SoftPaw, my parents' other lifemate CrystalVoice and my grandsire RainSong, a family of five altogether."
"That is interesting", I say. "Can you say anything in Thai?"
"Sawadee ka", shi adds.
"What does that mean?" I reply.
"It means 'hello'." I try repeating it.
"Did I get that right?"
"Actually you have to say Sawadee kup", shi adds. "Kup for males, ka for females."
"Which means you could theoretically say either one of them."
"True," shi replies with a lop-sided grin." "Anyway, I shipped out to StarCorps Academy 4 years ago, and here I am, at the ripe old age of 23. Well, that's my life story, how about telling me yours."
"Not as interesting as yours, but I'll try not to bore you." I try to collect my memories and experiences into a coherent sentence.
"I was born on Chakona, on the Skunktaur Archipelago. As it happens, I was born at the same time as a chakat whose parents knew mine very well. They got to know each other so well after we were born, that they all became life mates a year later, making me and hir siblings. My parents and hirs have lived on the peninsula ever since. I entered the academy 10 years ago, and I'm now 29."
"What is your sister's name?" Breeze asks.
"SilverStreak. You'll meet hir and hir mates this afternoon, when they come to the parade with us."
"I'm sure I will", shi replies. Again, there is something in the way shi said that which I can't put my finger on.
"I still find it odd that a chakat has been to Chakona so few times."
"Why is that so strange," shi retorts. "After all, you've never been to you species' homeworld."
"Valkyries don't really have a homeworld," I say sadly. "We just live wherever the wind takes us."
"I suppose I was like that growing up. I was never content staying in one place, always moving, always wanting to see something new. It's what led me to StarCorps, the adventure, the exploration." Breeze gives me a wistful smile. "I suppose that sounds strange to you."
"No, not at all," I reply. "Many valkyries feel the same way, me included. We are... compelled to keep moving to keep riding on the wind. It's wanderlust."
"I suppose." Shi still doesn't seem entirely happy with my explanation.
I release the controls for a minute and squeeze hir hand. "Maybe you should keep in mind the Valkyrie motto: 'No matter where you travel, you're always home'."
This seems to cheer hir up. I turn my eyes away from the forward screen to look at hir, only to discover that shi has been doing the same to me. So we look into each other's eyes for a while, somehow finding something familiar in what we see.
Breeze begins to say something, "I... wanted to ask...". but was cut off by the sound of an alarm.
Above all else, we are both StarCorps officers, and we instantly return our attention to the controls. There is nothing to worry about of course, the alarm is just an atmosphere proximity warning, indicating the auto-pilot is finished. But the moment is gone.
"So," Breeze continues, "what do you have in mind for today's run?" Shi brings up the shuttle evaluation list, a set of manoeuvres we follow to ensure that a shuttle is ready for active duty.
"I was thinking that since we're here," I reply, "we might as well take a look around, see if we can find somewhere to go this afternoon."
"Sounds good," Breeze adds. "I'll start taking us down." Shi begins to do just that while I work on a flight plan starting with a flight around Flinders Continent and Amistad, moving on to the Skunktaur Archipelago and other nearby islands. We are starting to drop below sub-orbital altitude and enter Flinders airspace, handled by Amistad Air Traffic Control.
"This is Amistad ATC to unidentified shuttle, please state your name, base and cargo."
"Amistad control," I reply over the comm, "this is shuttle Resolution, based from SES-1301 Joseph Banks. No cargo, we are on a routine flight testing mission. Over."
We waited a few moments for confirmation. "Control to Resolution, your flight clearance has been authorised. Because of Freedom Celebration festivities, priority has been give to private and commercial traffic. Please stay above cruising height until you leave Flinders airspace. Out."
"All right", I say to Breeze, "let's get this shuttle moving." So we head towards the surface, levelling off just under the clouds. We are soon flying over the capital city of Amistad, as friendly a city as its Spanish meaning of 'Friendship' would suggest.
The first thing you notice when you're in Amistad is that almost the entire population is made up of furries, the majority of which also happen to be hermaphrodites. This can make things awkward if you happen to be a uni-sex biped like myself, but at least I'm not human.
"Wow, look at all the people," Breeze says breathlessly.
It is indeed a breathtaking sight. From up here we can see hundreds of chakats, skunktaurs and others partying in the streets. I know that the celebrations will be even more Skunktaur Archipelago, and will probably continue everywhere well through the night and into next morning.
We look over the start of the parade, but don't stay long, we will be much closer to the action soon enough. The shuttle flies over to the Archipelago, where we put it through some complex turns. It performs beautifully, flying as gracefully as I've ever seen it.
"I don't know about you, but I think this bird is ready to fly," Breeze says.
"In that case", I reply, "let's head back to the Banks."
I bring up the comm and dial back to the Banks. "Joseph Banks switchboard, how may I help you?"
"Yeah, I'd like to speak to Chakat SilverStreak please, Engineering."
"Standby please." I hear a click.
"Hello", Silver says.
"It's Shadow", I reply. "We'll be landing in 10 minutes, is Dark and the rest with you?"
"Yeah, we'll all here and ready to go."
"OK, meet us in Shuttle Bay 2, it should be less crowded."
"No problem, see you in 10, out."
The shuttle soars out of the atmosphere towards the Banks.
"Banks Control, this is Resolution, requesting clearance to land in Shuttle Bay 2", Breeze says.
"Standby for a window", Sam replies over the comm. We wait for a few moments.
"Resolution, you have clearance to land in Bay 2. Welcome back."
We sail through the bay doors, landing easily on a shuttle pad. I can see Silver, Dark and the rest waiting nearby. I lock the shuttle's docking clamps while Breeze opens the doors.
I call out to the waiting group, "C'mon guys, we're burning daylight here?" They take the hint and hurry on board, carrying their day packs.
"Before I forget", I say to them, "I'd like to introduce you to my new pilot WarmBreeze. Breeze, this is Chakat SilverStreak, hir lifemate Darkern and denmate Myka, and Myka's boyfriend Kyle."
Breeze gives a delighted grin and greets them in what I now think of as hir usual style, hugging each one of them in turn. When shi greets Silver however, Breeze pauses for a second, and I can see something flicker behind Silver's eyes. Something happens between those two, but I decide to ask about it later. I make sure that the group is safely strapped in before climbing into the cockpit, where Breeze is prepping the shuttle for launch.
"Ladies, gents and others, welcome to StarShadow Airlines", I say over the comm. "This is a non-stop flight to Central Amistad. Please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened and your seats and tray tables are in their upright positions."
I chuckle to Breeze, "Let's get out of here." Shi smiles to hirself, warming up the engines. The shuttle quickly leaves the Banks, and we are soon heading towards the surface of Chakona once again. Like before, we are greeted by Amistad ATC.
"This is shuttle Resolution," Breeze says, "requesting clearance to land on Private Bay 230." This is a shuttle pad that StarCorps maintains in Amistad.
"Resolution, you are clear to land, but complete docking as soon as possible. Out."
No longer required to stay at cruising altitude, we fly over the buildings of Central Amistad.
I always get a strange thrill flying over a city, it gives me a feeling of wonder watching all those little people down below, and this feeling is increased when I see the whole city celebrating together. It is an outpouring of joy that I have rarely seen before, watching so many happy faces and carefree people, taking one day off to celebrate life. It is truly a Chakonan party.
"OK, we're coming up on landing," I say.
"Everything all right back there?" Breeze asks.
"Yes!" the group choruses.
"Breeze, do the final landing," I say to hir.
"All right." Shi takes the controls and brings the shuttle down. We land as lightly as a feather.
"Very well done, Breeze," I praise. "All right, everybody out!"
I open the doors and climb out while Breeze powers down the shuttle. I stretch my wings out and take a deep breath, flushing the recycled air out of my lungs. I am home again. I see Silver helping Dark out of the shuttle, so I walk over and begin to take their packs out of the ship, not noticing the beeping of the comm inside the shuttle. We have landed near Australis Park, and the first thing we planned on doing after landing was have a picnic. Silver has also brought hir saxophone, while I have my clarinet. Unlike most worlds, busking is a perfectly legitimate past-time on Chakona, as long as the music's good, and the extra credits always come in handy. I pause from unloading the shuttle for a minute and look out from the 6 storey building that we are on, watching the festivities that are Freedom Celebration.
The streets of Amistad have always been colourful, but they are especially bright today, covered with banners of every size and description: red, green, blue, yellow... I can already hear the music from the various parades and street parties down below. I look over towards the park, watching children and cubs flying kites or snoozing in the afternoon sun, couples and groups walking hand in hand, or young teens sitting under trees, interested in nothing else in the world but each other. But despite this overwhelming display of happiness and joy, despite all the wonderful things I can see before me, I cannot help but feel apprehensive at the sight, a sense of foreboding that I rarely feel. It is said that valkyries are just as empathic as chakats, but instead of sensing the emotions of individuals, we can feel the currents of emotion in a crowd, in a group of people, and sometimes a whole region of individuals. At the moment, I can almost taste the change in mood that is approaching, a premonition of the future that I cannot explain, yet cannot ignore.
"Something is about to happen to Chakona," I think.
I have no notion at this time that the feeling of impending doom I have will be violently and tragically justified...
On to Part 2
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References to chakats, skunktaurs, the James Cook and others are © Bernard Doove and are used with his permission
All other borrowed elements of this story are the copyright of their respective authors.
This story is ©2001 Nathan Cooper and is not to be redistributed without his permission.
The Author asserts the moral right to be known as the author of this work.