No Way Back – Chapter 18

Yay!  I got another one done!  I know, it’s a week late.  That’s okay though, because I don’t want to write and have it be garbage just for the sake of writing.   I actually finished the main writing yesterday, but I didn’t get the proof-reading done until about five minutes ago. 

Also, I’ve had to deal with the comments that made me think about how I’m posting.  I’ve decided that it’s stated in my header that this is a literary work and people expect some length to it.  I also take the time to post how long my chapters are in the opening notes (3k, coincidentally), so it winds up being up to the individual how much time they want to spend reading.  The only thing I would do that I can’t figure out how to is “Read More” link, but that’s something I can figure out later. 

Anyway, on with the show! 

Chapter 18

“How did she know what to say to me before?”

The mephit forced a smiled in my direction before she looked away. It was obvious that I had thrown her by asking her a question that wasn’t related to a datapad. It couldn’t be since she hadn’t handed me a new one yet. My eyes kept on her while she looked away, and I noticed a nervous grin taking the false-smile’s place. “She… Had…Words?” As she finished the last of the words, she looks at me with the same accomplished smile that she had when she helped me with the numbers.

I shift on the bed that I’m sitting on and look at her, expecting more than what I’d received. When a moment passes and she didn’t say anything, I spoke up. “She had the words? Where did she get them from?” I see her lift her left paw to towards her ear and press something in. “Do you know any other humans?”

Her eyes widen in comprehension of the last sentence. “No! You, Robert, I one.” She shakes her head, holding up a clawed digit. “No I one. I… First! No see human before today!” Her toothy grin is almost scary, but the glee in her eyes is so easy to read that it might as well have been written there. “I first! I happy you I first!” She gestures with the pad in my direction, pointing at my feet, then lifting it up towards my face and back down. “You happy?”

“No, I’m scared.”

“No scared. Happy! I no…” I see her gaze drift away for a moment, then back to me. “I scared, yes. Happy!”

At least I’m not alone in feeling this way. Maybe she’s a captive, too, I think to myself. I slide off the bed and let my feet touch the floor to stand, looking directly at her. “Okay, my turn.” She cocks her head as I speak. “I’m human. What are you?”

A blank stare is my only response, but I notice that she’s taken a half-step towards the wall and that her free hand has shifted towards the back of her loose-fitting suit.

I decide to try again. “I Human.” I tap my chest, then point to her. “You?”

I notice a shift in the coloring of the fur lining her cheeks as she looks at my hand and then away again. Her hand-paws come back around and clutch the pad to her chest, but she refuses to meet my gaze. “Uhh… I… I Daraani…” Her eyes manage to glance up at me, but her head stays lowered as she speaks. “You sit…” Her cheeks returned to their normal coloring as she lifts her head. The excited twinkle was gone from her eyes, replaced with a more business-like stability. When I’ve sat again, she continues her thought. “Nishka Hishaern. No scare.” She makes a clawing motion with her hand-paw.

“I noticed.” I can’t help but smile. I know she doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but the look on my face tells her that I thought it was funny. She smiles back with a soft grunt, then starts tapping at the datapad. “Well, I have to say, though, for a skunk, you’re kinda pretty,” I start offering random thoughts at her, taking full advantage of the language barrier to protect me from embarrassment. “I mean, I love your eyes, they’re just so big and expressive and pink! The anime groups at home would love it! And your tail is so fluffy and wild…” My jokes and teases stop when hear a plasticky clatter across the room. That’s I notice the darker coloring returning to her cheeks and and her eyes shifting to her tail. After another moment, she turns towards me with her mouth agape. “You understand me, don’t you…?”

“Yes…”

It’s my turn to be shocked. “How?! I thought you couldn’t! That’s what these are for, right?” My mind starts racing about the implications, but then the darker-purple fur slams into my mind. “Oh, shit! Wait, I was trying to be a smart-ass! I mean, your fur is nice, and I really do think your eyes are pretty, too! I just–”

The door slides open to let the dark wolf-person in, followed closely by Nishka. No sooner had they entered did Dharcia bolt from her spot and out the door, but not before I notice the drop of a tear forming in her eye. I begin to stand but notice Nishka shaking her head quickly from behind the wolf and think better of it. Instead, I look at the lupine alien in front of me and wait for something to happen.

The first thing I’m greeted with is a deep, angry growl. I look at the wolf’s dark eyes and notice that they are slits, nearly closed in what I think is quite a bit of rage. His snout is pulled back in a half-snarl, and his stance reminds me of a brawler getting ready to jump into a fight. The growl continues as he steps slightly closer to let Nishka around him.

I swallow hard, then decide to speak first. “Are you going to kill me now?” The sentiment catches the wolf off-guard and I see his eyes open wide as his snarl disappears. If I hadn’t known any better, I’d have thought that I knocked him back a step in surprise.

The feline finishes coming around the wolf, then looks at me with a smile. “No, Robert. You’re okay for now.”

The sudden ease with which she spoke the language that I was struggling to show her catches my attention, and I shift my gaze to her. “Wait a minute, how are you doing that? Just a half-hour ago, you couldn’t understand me.”

The lupine tosses something at me, and I reach to catch it. The item he tosses to me resembles a small, black marble that has some kind of wires extending from its surface.

“That is how I am speaking your language, Robert.” Nishka smiles as she walks to where I’m sitting, then gently takes the device from my hand. “Every UFO member has one installed. It allows for instant translation for the over five thousand forms of communication and even allows us to speak alien tongues that we might never have known otherwise.” She holds the machine between her claws, turning it as she inspects the unit for damage. “We can turn them off and on, and you will be able to as well, once you learn how to use it. It’ll make your transition to living on the ship easier. We got the translation matrix a moment go from a – – a classified source.”

“And if you don’t want to live on my ship, that’s fine. I’ll happily jettison your carcass out the cargo bay doors.” That came from the almost-black wolf standing at the door. His arms were crossed as he leaned against the wall. “Just figuring I’d offer before you got some kind of grand scheme to run away. You’re about forty-five light years from home, so don’t give us any garbage about going back.”

“But I never said I wanted to live here! It’s kinda cool to think about, living with aliens, but this has to be some kind of joke! Why do you want me here? Why did you make Ch–”

The wolf cuts me off. “I DON’T want you on my ship. This is an insult to the orderly operation I run! If it weren’t for…” Nishka glares across the room at the commander as she takes a seat next to me on the bed, and he cuts himself short and with a loud sigh. “Alright, here’s the answers to most of your questions. First, I’m the commander of this ship My name is Commander Grai’gahrd. You are on a flagship for the Universal Federation Organization, the Conquest’s Dawn. Second, you’re here because you were…” He pauses for only a moment, but continues. “Abducted would be the correct word. You were abducted by the Au’Sharh for something, although we’re not sure what exactly.” His tone seemed to say that he was hiding something, but I simply sat and listened. “We were attempting to rescue you when you woke up. Because you woke up, you’re stuck here.”

I look at Nishka who is nodding. “I’m sorry, Robert,” she starts sincerely. “You can’t go back now. While the commander is accurate, albeit harsh, we are bound by law to not let you go back. Your planet has not been approved to join the Federation, and you’ve witnessed us.” She watches my face as I go through my bevy of emotions. Confused. Then disbelief. Then scared and angry. “Please, don’t do anything foolish, Robert. I don’t want to have to confine you to this room.” The commander snorts his disapproval of her statement. “Some people will consider you a threat. I don’t. I think you’re young and confused, and that this is a lot to take in. It was when the UFO announced themselves to our race, too.”

The room is quiet for a moment, save for the small creaks and beeps of the device in Nishka’s hand. I look between the two of them, then finally speak. “Will I ever be able to go home?”

Grai’gahrd speaks first. “If you can convince the High Commanders that your race is not a threat to the stability of the UFO, and your world government accepts our laws regarding space-flight, then yes, once they achieve faster-than-light travel speed.” He laughs darkly. “Not that that will happen.”

Nishka hisses at the commander who only smiles and winks at her. I look over to the only other semi-friendly face that I’ve known. “What happened with Dharcia? Why did she run?”

The feline smiled wide, but her voice had the kind and soothing tone from when she first spoke to me. “Her kind isn’t used to open compliments or flirting. They are both frowned upon in her culture unless you’re partnered. In a way, you paid her the highest compliment and the darkest insult at the same time.”

“Oh. I didn’t mean to.”

“I’m sure you didn’t, young one. It can be confusing trying to understand the multitudes of cultures on this ship.” Nishka grins wider in my direction as she brings her paws together around the device. “You’re under a special permissions order from the top officers to learn from us as we learn from you.” She lifts her paw where the machine was. In its place is a device that looks like an injector which she is aiming at the side of my neck. “Now, you need to hold very still, or this will hurt.”

It hurt anyway.

– –

Dharcia didn’t stop running until she was in the medical office. She let the door slide behind her and then punched her lock code into the access panel. She had been silently sobbing the whole way here. But why? He was a human. That makes him an animal! It was absurd for her to feel insulted by an animal. He was just acting like animals do, without really thinking and by instinct.

She finally brought herself to walk towards Nishka’s chair and flopped into it, letting her head fall towards the desk and land in her arms which were piled and waiting. Her sobs continued as she tried to tell herself that it wasn’t an insult to her but was, instead, him simply speaking. He didn’t know that her tail isn’t supposed to be bushy, but well-brushed and groomed like hers was. But to speak of her tail in such disarray was to insist that she didn’t care about herself or anyone else! He might as well have outright called her gutter trash!

But he had also complimented her eyes. None of her own race had ever told her that her unusual eye color was beautiful. Ever! She was raised with others of her kind who had the normal dark reds, browns, blues, greens, even a few yellows, but pink? She’d never met anyone else with them, and she had always looked at it as a curse. No one would ever ask their fathers to arrange a partnering with her being such a freak of nature. But this human had noticed them and even liked them. Maybe another Daraani had thought so, too. Perhaps it was time to ask her mother if there had been word from any other families looking to partner off their sons.

She wiped her eyes of the tears that had been running down her cheeks. Neither of these arguments made sense. He was an animal! If he was insulting or complimenting, it was strictly an instinctual response, nothing more. After all, the little information that they have publicly available about these humans makes them out to be pack-based hunter-gatherers. They’ve barely pulled together enough to verbally communicate amongst themselves.

She sat up in the chair, her brow furrowed in startling realization: How could he be so easy to understand and so quickly learn from her if he was some simple animal? He was well-articulated, reasonably well groomed, and wore clothes that weren’t the tatters and rags of animal skins that they were shown to wear in what little information is available. How could their information be so incorrect? She decided at that moment that she was going to find out why it seemed to be so.

Dharcia reached down under the desk and removed a soft paper-like wadding from its container. She brought it to her snout and blew hard into it, clearing out her nasal passages from her unusual reaction. This was more important than whether or not he had insulted her or not. There was a scientific reason to accept his flawed behavior, and her personal feelings had nothing to do with that. She nodded at herself, then stood from the chair and straightened her clothes. The last thing she does before unlocking the door and returning to his cell is to toss the mucus-coated tissue into the waste bin.

– –

The door hisses open again as I stand from the bed. It’d been a few minutes since Dharcia left, but I’d been told a lot. I’d learned that their translation matrices were originally top-secret secured in case someone tried contacting the planet before we were ready. I learned that there had been an apparent first-contact between the UFO and Earth, but not much came of it.  Most importantly, at least for me at the moment, was that I learned how I had insulted her by simply speaking about her tail. It was taken as an insult because it would have been understood that I felt she lacked in proper etiquette, grace, and grooming, and that was about as bad as calling her a worthless whore. I didn’t want that and had been hoping to see her before I left the room.

Nishka, however, wasn’t expecting her quick return. She jumped as she finished explaining how the injection was the machine, but a nanite breakdown of the device. They would re-assemble correctly in the appropriate areas of my brain and would have no damaging affects to the surrounding tissue, although I might have a headache as I got used to its translations. The Hishaern quickly regained her composure and began to speak to her subordinate. “Dharcia! Good, I’m glad you’ve come back. I want–”

The Daraani broke in with her statement as if she was about to burst. “I know you don’t think of me that poorly, and I don’t care if you do. I’m here to learn and get our information right. Your race is practically unknown to us and I don’t think that’s right. So, here I am. I’m ready. Just don’t talk about that again. Please.”

Mergrayne looked at the the purple skunk with a smirk that slowly turned into a chuckle. A moment later, it was a full laugh, the first I’d seen him loosen up the entire time he was present in the room. After a moment, he calmed himself enough to speak through chuckles. “I’m glad to hear that, Ensign. I was about to assign you to be his liaison until he knows the ship well enough. And I’m sure you have a million questions to ask him about his life and race. Just make sure to take good notes because everything you write will be updating both the public knowledge files as well as the newly unclassified military info. It’ll make you the first to do any real documentation of them in years.” He motions to Nishka. “Come on. Let’s let her get her feet wet. If you say he’s not a danger, then I’ll believe you.”

“You didn’t a second ago.”

He looks at me, then the mephit, and finally back at Nishka. “I think they’ve embarrassed each other enough to keep from doing anything stupid.” He turns to head out, stepping through the door with Nishka following behind, her tail shifting and twitching.

The doctor stops and turns around at the entrance to punch in the code on the plate to keep the door from closing. Before she leaves to return to her office, the feline pokes her head into the doorway. “Dharcia, keep that pad with you, and keep him close. We’ll send you his room assignment to your datapad.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she quietly implies, and I notice the darker coloring returning to her cheeks as she clutches the pad to her chest again.  She slowly turns towards me, her maw showing a nervous smile. “So, shall we?” She gestures at the door, and we both head out into the gray-walled hallway.

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