No Way Back – Chapter 19 (And it’s about bleedin’ time)

I have been stuck with writing blocks, unhelpful work schedules, and much, much more now for far too long.  Now that it’s cleared out, I can’t wait go get writing again!  And, to prove it, guess what?  I finished up Chapter 19!  WOOT!

Chapter 19

For what Dharcia lacked in social skills during the tour of the ship, she made up for it in knowledge of the workings of the vessel and the interconnected activities of the races on-board. There was absolutely no small talk. There was no questions or banter like I’d have liked. Instead, it was purely educational, much to my chagrin.

The first thing I learned was to not be too close to her tail. She let slide the first time I stepped on it but threatened me with severe pain if I did it again. I took to walking just off to one side to prevent the mishap and it wasn’t an issue again. The second thing I learned was that she hadn’t quite forgiven me for my accidental faux pas but was more interested in learning how I reacted to things and what I knew to let it stop her. I think the fact that she outright told me so was the easiest way to learn that. From there, it was on to actually walking the ship. For all the size that the ship had, the corridors were barely wide enough to handle three people walking along them, and that depended on the race of the occupants. For myself and those about my size it was comfortable enough, but the larger aliens obviously would have needed more room.

The first place she showed me was the medical facility. She said it was in case something happened and I got hurt, but I felt it was more because she expected plenty of trouble for me, not that I’d given her reason to think otherwise so far. While we were there I recognized the gurney that I had started started my new life on: black metal with a hovering box positioned not quite over it and the three others in each of the facility’s corners. I had walked over to the unit before Dharcia had realized it and was promptly confronted by Nishka, who had been watching from the security cameras. She promised to explain the function of the devices in the room to me later but now was not the time. She shooed us from the room to continue the tour, but not before pulling Dharcia aside and whispering something into her ear. Whatever it was the feline said, it made my tour-guide even less happy. The mephit grabbed my arm rather forcefully as she swung me around and all but threw me head-first out the door.

The next hour or so was a blur of facts, directions, and information that I forget as of now. She started me at the best place to be for any person: where the food was kept. The mess hall was as long as a football field and doubly as wide, with the occasional support beam from top to bottom. The floors and ceiling sported the same coloring as the hallway’s black flooring and white-metal tiled overhead but the walls were painted with random shades of reds and greens. All over the floor were tables holding many different food options, or what I guessed was food. It could have fed entire armies at a moments notice. Dharcia made a remark about how most of the food itself was generated and not necessarily cooked, but I really wasn’t paying attention as I took in the mixed scents and odors pouring from the trays below the observation deck. I’d asked if we could try some and was promptly turned down. Apparently I hadn’t been announced to the crew as of yet and a human on the ship could be taken as a bad sign. With a sigh, I followed her back into the main halls.

The next area we stopped in was what she called the Commons. It was connected to the mess hall by way of a double-wide hallway that was a rather short walk. If we were to have been Earth, we’d probably have called it a really big mall. There were shops and stores carrying everything you could imagine, and some things you wouldn’t want to imagine. And the people! So many colors and types of creatures that I couldn’t even begin to try and name them! Bi-pedals, four-legged walkers, taurs, even some insectoids were all mingling together peacefully. There were some that stood barely half my height while others towered overhead. Or they would have if my guide would have allowed me past the viewing dome situated above the center of the water fountain and surrounding plants of various types. I found myself eager to jump down and begin mingling. After all, how often do you get to meet literally thousands of aliens! Again, I was cut short on my enthusiasm by my current lack of security clearance.

We continued this way for quite a while. Finally, we began walking towards what she called the living decks when I finally decide to stop her. Trying to be gentle, I grab her arm and bring her to a stop in mid-stride. The motion cuts short an explanation of the way the living decks were divided by home planet’s conditions and earned me a glaring sneer as she snapped herself around to face me. I look into her eyes and try to maintain an apologetic stance. “Look, I really want to talk to you. Can we please stop for a moment and just talk?”

Her response? An immediate and loud huff, followed by a curt nod. “Fine. Say what you want. I don’t care.”

“Hey, that’s what I want to talk to you about. I’m really sorry that I upset you. I didn’t mean it that way. Where I come from, being bushy-tailed means awake and happy. It’s actually a compliment on… “ I notice a slightly-yellowed tear coming to her eyes. “Dharcia, are you okay?”

She verbally lashes out at me and makes it clear what I said wasn’t heard, or at least wasn’t registering yet. “You don’t understand! I’ve lived my entire life being the outcast, and for you to sit there and tell me that there’s something wrong with me! Well, you can just eat my dirt for all I care, because… Because…” Her tone drops and her facial expression softens to that of a surprise and confusion. “Wait, you’re telling me that you actually were complimenting me? That whole time? You… You like my tail?”

“Uhhhh…”

“Do you think I’m pretty?”

“Dharcia, I’m no judge of what’s attractive in your species. I think you look nice, yes. But, where I’m from, skunks are usually black and white! Compared to that, yes, you’re pretty, but I can’t say that and know how that would be taken by you or anyone else you know. I was being an ass when I said that, Dharcia. I mean, an ass in that I didn’t think you’d understand me. But I meant it when I said that you looked nice. You do, for an alien, I mean.”

She watches me with those pink eyes that seem strangely piercing for a few moments, as if she was looking for something that would betray false intentions. When she decides that she’s found none, she nods slowly. “Alright. I guess I understand. I’ll forgive you if you really mean what you’re saying.” She smiles and visibly relaxes, her tail bobbing slightly as she straightens herself some. “I’m sorry, too. I know you don’t know the subtleties of all the species here and we expect to see you make a fool of yourself a few times as you adjust. I just have a history of getting picked on because of how different I am from everyone.”

I wait a moment for her to continue the explanation. When it doesn’t come, I decide to chance even more. I extend my right hand to her slowly in the hopes that she’d recognize the gesture. Instead, I’m met with her lifting it to her nose and softly sniffing its palm. I laugh quietly, then step closer to her and take her right hand-paw with my left and gently place it in my again waiting right hand. “I guess I can teach you something now. On Earth, we call this a handshake.” I gently grasp the paw and shake it slowly. “It’s a combination of a greeting and a peaceful gesture.” With that I let go of her paw which falls to her side briefly. She raises her hand-paw to her eyes to inspect it, then extends her paw towards me. With a smile I take her paw and let her shake it again. “It really has a ton of meanings, but the main ones are of welcome.”

The darker shade returns to her cheek for a moment and quickly vanishes. “Well then! Welcome to you, too!” She smiles wide, a gesture that bares her sharp teeth slightly. Then she lets go and pulls me alongside her as she pushes us along the tour. The rest of the day her paw remained on my shoulder as she explained in a much happier tone the remaining parts of the ship. It was very, very nice to have a new friend who I didn’t have to worry about snapping at me for an accidental misstep.

– –

She sat in her cell and simply stared at the wall. The light-brown coloring of that wall had nothing to stare at, but she stared anyway. Her legs were pulled up to her chest and her chin rested on the bent knees. Around them were her arms and hand-paws, each clutching other as they held her knees in place. All of these were indistinguishable from the other in the orange jumpsuit she’d been forced into. The only identifying marks came from the black and white fur on her long ears that fell down her shoulders just outside of her shoulder-length black hair, and the matching fur on her face. Her neon-blue eyes rarely blinked, and she hadn’t moved from that position in the hours since she’d been remanded to the five-by-five room.

Behind her and to the right, Chi’bi knew the walls would be identical, but to her left it seemed that there was no wall or door, just what appeared to be an empty frame. In truth there were infrared sensor beams that were linked to the ship’s security network. If one of the innumerable beams broke, the ward would be sealed and a sleeping gas would fill the hall and would be sealed until motion sensors showed clear across the board. Then, and only then, would security personnel enter the room. That’s when they’d be moved to the high security ward. She didn’t want to be in the high security block.

The time drifted past with little in the way of entertainment. She could keep track of how many times an asteroid or other space flotsam bumped the hull. She could have begun counting the strands of fur on her paws. But no, her mind was occupied. The past twenty four hours kept running through her mind, and every time it did she felt her heart sink deeper. As Chi’bi knew it, she’d traded one prison for another, and there was nothing she could do about it. Instead, she simply waited for whatever was going to happen to happen. The captain could decide to send her to maximum security simply for being on that ship. By being on the Au’sharh craft she was in violation of several orders from High Command, and it didn’t matter why. She’d made her choice, though, and she was going to stick with it.

A soft hiss sounded down the hallway, followed by the sound of a dispatch of guards. Four, maybe five different sounds from the varying weights of the soldiers. The footsteps came closer, but she didn’t care. She simply looked at the wall and waited. As the sounds came from her immediate left they stopped. Chi’bi continued to stare at the wall and waited for her sentence to be issued. There was a silence and she could tell that, whoever was there, they were waiting for her to look at them. She wasn’t going to give the bastard the satisfaction.

The voice that greeted her was gruff, almost a throaty growl. But it was a growl she knew all too well. “Chi’bi. I’m only going to ask you this one time. For your sake, you’d better not lie to me.”

The Eil’phae turned and raised her ears at Commander Grai’gahrd. Her jaw lay slack for a moment in surprise before she stood and brought herself to attention before the superior officer. Was she really on his ship? “I’ve never lied to you before, Commander.”

“Good. Now, tell me. Where is my brother?”

Chi’bi tilts her head in complete confusion but answers the question anyway. “You don’t know? He got captured like I was. The whole battlegroup was. On a recon mission in Au’Sharh space, we ran into a series of EMP encampments.” The woman shifted on her feet and paused her testament for a moment. “It knocked out the entire group. We didn’t have a chance.”

The Ru’therian stepped up to the beams as if to charge her directly. “I meant NOW! Where is he? I know you’ve seen him!”

The Eil’phae involuntarily backed into the wall from the charge. Her head hung heavy on her chest as a tear drifted down her fur. “I don’t know. I was told he’d be waiting for me.” Chi’bi looked up and faced the commander again, allowing her to see the tears rolling down her face. “If I knew where he was, Mergrayne, I’d tell you. I swear. I just…” She slid down the walls and let herself fall into a ball on the floor, her ears falling back to her shoulders in an honest display of her despair. “I don’t know where he is…”

Commander Grai’gahrd glared at the woman through the invisible sensor stream for a moment and gauged her response. After a moment of watching the young lady sob uncontrollably into her paws, he finally turned to the guard to his left. “Let her out. And give her back her clothes.”

The black-and-white-furred skunk in the bright blue uniform of ship security looked at him inquisitively before asking, “Sir?”

The Ru’therian turned towards the exit before he spoke again. “She is an officer of the UFO, Ensign. As of this moment, she is designated as crew to this ship. And if I hear of any mistreatment, you’ll answer to me.” With that, he shouldered his way through the detail and returned to the bridge.

The guard obeyed and disabled the restraint sensors, then stepped in to help the distraught female off of the floor.

She remained where she was and would not be moved.

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