No Way Back – Chapter 21

As you see, I’m moving along with my writing!  I could have had this posted last night, but I decided to give the writing a day to settle, and also so I would have a fresh look at the work today.  It looks good, so here it is!

Chapter 21

I’ve been living among these aliens now for the past few days now. Not what I’d consider days, but ship-days. I’m still adjusting to ship-time, and it’s almost impossible without the benefit of the sun to track time for myself. The portals in my berth are set to simulate sunrise and sunset, day and night, but outside of that room all I have is the chronodisplays throughout the ship. I feel tired when it’s only barely half-way through the day. I wake up when the majority of the crew is setting up for their version of overnight watch. It’s going to take a while to adjust to that.

My eyes flash open as my body tells me it’s time to be awake. I slowly sit and look at the display portals to find that it’s now considered night for the majority of the crew. With a groan, I flop back into the slightly too-hard padding. My eyes now wide open in the barely-lit room, I can make out the polishing trace in the ceiling where the buffer must have waited an extra moment. I sit up again, swinging my legs around and off of the bed. “No use trying to sleep,” I tell myself as I stand. “Lights, morning.” The hidden lighting that wraps around the room warms to a reddish-yellow and slowly shifts more towards yellow. With Dharcia’s help, I’d programmed the lighting to emulate sunrise on the earth using the color-phasing option popular with the majority of the crew. Over the course of an hour, the lighting would become steadily more bright and eventually shift to an off-white that felt normal to me. The light is still somewhat dim at start-up, though, and I walk in that light to the closet. My left hand touches the black wall pad and the door slides open to reveal what few possessions I currently have: the clothes that I came in, my now-disabled cell phone, my wallet, and three deep-blue uniforms that are now hanging in the closet, perfectly pressed and ready to be worn. I quickly reach up and grab one of the garment hangers which pulls free of the slider with barely a tug. Clothing in hand, I turn and clip the door control with the heel of my right palm, causing the door to slide almost-silently back into place.

“Don’t roam the ship by yourself, Robert. There are a lot of things that you might do to upset one person or another.”

Nishka had told me that right after I was introduced to the crew. She also warned me to answer as straight-forward as I could until the communications nanites had adjusted for the nuances of my language. Her warnings run through my mind as I separate the full length pants and long sleeved shirt. Once they’re laid out, I turn around and begin trying to find the one pair of boxer shorts I had. They were cleaned daily because the majority of the crew only used underwear for support or enhancement, and none of what they had fit me right. The male Eil’phae who was my tailor had volunteered to pattern what I had to make some more, but I had yet to hear back from him about it. Unable to find them on the floor, I shake my head in irritation. They must have been picked up by one of the cleaning bots that ran the ship and dropped into the garment bay. They’ll be gone for at least another hour or so. “I guess I’ll have to make do,” I think out-loud to myself. I grab the pants and climb into them, securing the magnetic clasp around my waist once it’s in position. I grab the shirt and pull it open at the buttons. Half of the twelve buttons were on each section of the shirt, and I pull it one arm at a time. Once it’s on, I fasten the buttons one at a time and pull slightly at the mandarin collar. Once I’m satisfied with the position, I reach down to the bedside table and grab the communications link and my rank insignia, a single, hollowed circle. The circle goes on my right collar, the comm link on the left where it smooths itself onto the fabric. Once it’s completed, I pull out my sneakers and put them on, the one glaring oddity in the outfit. My shoes are something just not seen on the ship, and I’ll have to have them custom-made as well.

The mirror across the room offers a glimpse of my appearance and I can’t help but feel like I’m wearing a specially-designed chef’s uniform. I smile at the thought, then twist and bend to make sure I haven’t missed any of the closures. So far, I’d only ever missed the pants clasp. Once. I wasn’t about to make that same mistake.

I take a seat on the bed and reach my left hand to the comm link to contact Dharcia since she’d been the person assigned to escort me around the ship. I stop just short and think to myself, “She’s going to be asleep. Maybe I’ll be alright to get to the mess hall on my own. As long as I don’t stop to talk to people.” I nod confidently, then stand once more and briskly head to the door. I slap the control pad lightly, then step out into the quiet halls of the ship, turn right, and work my way down the halls and towards closest lift.

My walk had been rather uneventful as I came closer to the mess. It was technically late night on the ship, so the halls were rather devoid of life. Those that had been were too busy with their groups to notice or had their variously-shaped noses in a datapad and were only barely aware of their surroundings. I made the final turn into the Commons and began quickly moving through the vast chamber between myself and the cafeteria. The only sound I can hear is the soft padding of my rubber soles against the floor as I shoot across the dimly-lit expanse, one foot in front of the other at a near run. The entryway to the galley begins to widen and I’m almost there…

Nishka stumbles along the walkway that runs perpendicular to the galley and stops, leaning against the wall. Even at a run, I can see her trembling and breathing hard. Her usually neat fur is slicked with what looks like perspiration, and her bronze hair is horribly strewn about as if she’d lost a fight with a tornado. The gold, semi-sheer gown she’s wearing, however, doesn’t seem like it’d accommodate any kind of speed.

I break my stride and slow to a walk. I feel the heat of my exertion begin to build in the uniform and curse the fabric that’s tighter than I’d prefer and virtual lack of breathing. As I approach, the Hishaern female looked up, and I can see her panting. I bring myself almost to a stop as I come within arm’s reach of her and watch her hand-paws closely. “Nishka, is everything okay?” I ask as carefully as I can.

I reach out to touch her shoulder as she looks at me, her feline eyes dilated and wide, and grabs my shoulder to steady herself. “I’m okay….” Her words trail as she speaks, and the only thing I can think of is that she’s intoxicated with something. If I had to guess, I’d say she was drunk. I choose to keep my mouth shut. “I… I just need something to… To eat… You’re … Mmmm… Not supposed to be here, Robert…” She tries to push herself from the wall and towards the galley, using my body for support. “mmm-But since you’re here, won’t you…” Se laughs, and that’s when I realize that she wasn’t trembling. She begins purring louder as she continues. “… escort a lady?” Her tail flicks behind her and her smile widens as she tries her best to offer an arm to me.

I nod with a smile and help her keep her balance as her body vibrates against my arm. The sensation is strange but I try my best to ignore it. We make the last few yards to the doorway in silence. Well, we didn’t talk about anything. It was mostly “Whoa!” and “Careful,” but we made it without her slamming into the wall again.

The galley is the opposite of the Commons: bustling with night life and those enjoying their time off. No one seems to notice us working our way to an empty table, and I help the doctor into her chair. Once she’s seated, I cross the table and sit opposite of her and watch her as she runs her hand-paws through her hair and straightens the form-fitting dress. I can’t help but find myself looking at her body, though. If she wasn’t covered in fur, she’d have attracted the attention of every guy I knew! Her full bosom heaves with her hard breathing. Her waist narrowed slightly before shifting back out to finish the almost perfect hourglass that made her hips. I had to stop there because the table was in my way, but it was long enough for her to notice.

“No funny business, there, human.”

I look up at her eyes to find them staring my way, glittering with the wide, devilish smile that she was offering me.

“I’m already taken, Robert, so don’t even think about it.” She looks over her hand-claws, though the smile never leaves her lips, then begins stroking her cheek fur. “Besides, don’t take this wrong, but you’re not my type.”

“Nishka, I–”

She continues as if I hadn’t said anything. “I prefer the bigger, stronger type. With much more fur.”

“Nishka…”

“Mmmm… And a full, long–”
My eyes bulge as I raise my voice. “Doctor!”

She shakes her head and looks at me again, her eyes snapping wide open for a moment. “Hrmm? Oh… Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. What’s wrong with you anyway? You seem…” I search for the right word. “Different.”

“It’s the dress, isn’t it?”

I laugh at her sudden change in conversation. “Well, that’s one aspect, yes.”

Before I can continue, she cuts me off again, and I notice she’s still stroking her fur. “Hey, a girl’s got to look good now and again. It just so happens that I just finished… Um… Putting my mate to bed…” She seems to be drawn off into the distance again, a contented smile spreading across her maw.

“Well, I’m glad, but, have you been drinking or something?”

Her attention snaps back on me and I see her tail whip behind her again. “No! I just had some kainearia. I’ll be fine in a couple hours, I think.”

“What’s ‘kay-nary’?”

She reaches down the front of her dress, then drops a clear bag of dried greens onto the table. “Kainearia. You don’t have anything like this at home?”

I take the bag and open in, then sniff the air coming out. “Catnip? You’re high on catnip!?” I sniff the bag again and am absolutely sure it’s what it is. “My mom’s cat used to love this stuff. It made her crazy, she’d chase anything and wouldn’t stop rubbing herself on the floor!”

“Then yes, I guess I am high on cat nip. Don’t worry, I won’t try to rub myself all over you.”

I push the bag back to her and stand quickly. “I’m going to get you a drink. What should I get you?” She opens her mouth to answer and I cut her off. “Water. Right.” If she responded I wouldn’t have heard it. I’d already headed off towards the liquid dispensory.

Or, I would have, if I hadn’t run into what felt like a brick wall and stumbled to the ground. I look up to find another slender form in front of me, this one in long black pants and a black-backed short-sleeved short. But, this body had a light-pink fur and wavy red hair that ran down their back. Based on what I see, including the rabbit-like tail and pink ears beginning to turn, I respond quickly. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

A deep, masculine voice comes from the person I’d run into. “Mind repeating that?” The slender body finishes their turn and I see the sharp, wider, more angular facial features that I’ve come to understand as a male Eil’phae. “I don’t think I heard you right the first time.”

I stand up slowly and try to apologize. “Oh, I’m–”

“An idiot human. Do I really look like a woman to you?”

I feel my fists ball up in a sudden burst of anger. “As a matter of fact, you do! At least–”

That’s the last word that I can say. A lightning fast kick from his large foot slams into my chest, throwing me back to the ground with enough force to slide a few feet. I jump back to my feet to find this Eil’phae had me in height by a few inches, and that was without the raised ears. The implication slips my mind for a moment as I push closer to the being who’d chosen to attack me. He shifts to bring his right side to bear on me and raises his fist in a fighting stance I don’t recognize. I quickly bring my fists up, ready to strike, and close the gap. His forward hand lashes out to strike my head. I block it and immediately wish I’d just dodged. The strike was like taking a brick to the arm! I step back as I see his left hand begin to swing…

“That’s enough, Ter’link!” The voice comes from Nishka, who’s risen from her seat and stepped beside me. That’s when I see her claws fully extended and her hand-paws brought to the level of her eyes. “It was an accident. Now, stand down before I have to shred you and then patch you up. Again.”

The pink-furred Eil’phae glares at me with his brown eyes, then lowers his fists. “Sorry, doc. But you need to teach your pet some manners.”

“I’m no one’s pet!”

He snorts at me, then brings his paw up to his ear. He runs it quickly along its inside, then flicks it at me before returning to his table and conversations.

Nishka, no longer shaking at all, takes my arm and pulls me towards the dispensery. “You’ll have to forgive Ter’link. He’s a brilliant mechanic. He’s a great hand-to-hand combatant. But he’s got no temper control, and he uses his strength and skill to prove how much of a man he is.”

I rub my chest to push down the dull ache that remains from his kick. “What, I’m not the only one?”

“No. He’s a member of a royal family on Eil’ph.” She stops me in front of the machine and punches in a code. A frothy white liquid pours into a cup resting at the bottom of the machine. She takes it, then begins drinking it slowly, her eyes closing as she enjoys every moment of its taste.

“That’s it?” I cross my arms and wait for her continuation.

Instead, she leans against the wall and points to the machine. Once I’ve gotten myself some water, she then continues. “Usually, the males of their kind takes the coloring of their father, while the females randomly take either one. On rare occasions…”

“So, he’s got his mother’s fur coloring, so what?”

The Hishaern smiles after taking another sip of her beverage. “He didn’t just get his mother’s fur. He got her body type and her hair color, too. He’s been getting teased and picked on his entire life for being a girly-boy. He’s definitely male, though.” She takes another sip, smacking her lips to take every drop. “So, he learned to fight. He’s quite strong and quick, too, but he can’t get rid of the body type. So, he’s sensitive to it.”

I look across the floor to the man I’d accidentally bumped. “Okay, I understand. But why didn’t he just let me apologize?”

“Not his way. If you apologize, how can he prove he’s a male?”

I roll my eyes, then begin to head in his direction.

“Where are you going?”

“To apologize.”

Nishka smiles as she shakes her head. Instead of stopping me, she leans against the wall and simply enjoys her drink.

I quickly make the distance to his table, then tap his shoulder. “Hey, I’m not finished with you yet.”

The rabbit spun quickly, a hint of surprise in his eyes, but he speaks loudly enough to be heard. “Oh yeah? And what are you–”

“Ter’link, I’m sorry for insulting you. If I’d known, it never would have happened.”

His brows arch in confusion and he offers no reply.

“The last thing I want to do is to start tense relationship with anyone on-board since I’m going to be here for a while.” I bring my right hand up level to his chest, palm to the sky in the proper Eil’phae greeting from a subordinate, then continue. “My name is Robert. I would be honored to have a chance to rectify any misunderstandings.”

Still stunned, the male rests his right hand-paw, pads down, into my hand, then flips them both. “Alright then. How about you buy me a drink, then, and I can introduce you to the mechanics day-crew.”

I smile and nod to the man, then we turn to the table for introductions.

– –

Mergrayne had taken the time to rouse Dharcia from her sleep, then grabbed a security detail when he heard of an altercation in the mess hall dealing with the human. He knew it was a mistake to release that dangerous animal into the population as it was, and now it seemed he was right. Assault blaster in hand, he and the ten-man security detail made their way through the Commons at a quick pace while keeping himself from breaking into a run as he felt it would look too panicked. As they neared the chamber, the detail split into two teams of five and made their way to the riot entrances that would allow them to surround the floor as needed. The commander would not have this behavior on his ship, and he was going to make his point.

Dharcia, however, seemed to think everything was alright. “I’m telling you, Commander, there’s nothing to worry about! The on-site crew called it all-clear a moment ago!”

He growled and didn’t look at her. “Shut up! He’s your responsibility! You should have been there!”

“He didn’t call me!”

They flew into the entrance with Mergrayne tapping his comms module, the signal to enter the chamber. As he entered, all ten soldiers in riot gear popped open the security gates to find nothing wrong. It was a usual night, with the mild intoxicants going and the crew in their more provocative outfits and embellishments. Some had even taken to dancing to the music that was being piped into the hall.

Grai’gahrd looked around and found his target. He stormed to the human and pulled him from the over-crowded table, turning the male to face him. “What is the meaning of this?” he growled, then took a moment to notice that he himself was the only one out of sorts. He was standing at a table full of the mechanics crew, including the ever-troublesome Ter’link. Even Nishka seemed surprised by his entry, as she’d joined them at the table.

“Commander! Such a surprise that you’d join us! I thought you were never off duty?” The feline playfully asked him across the table.

He glared at the doctor, then asked the table. “Who started it?”

The pink Eil’phae volunteered the response. “I did. It was all a misunderstanding, sir. It’s been dealt with.”

Mergrayne stared down the mechanic, who had the good sense to look guilty. “I should hold you for public disturbance. Again!”

“Sorry, sir. It won’t happen again with him. We’re straight.”

The Ru’therian turned on his heels and fixed Dharcia with a glare. “Don’t lose your human again. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

Mergrayne looked at Nishka once more, then relaxed. He tapped the comms device twice and saw the security team stand down and make their way back to their initial posts. “Alright, then. If everything’s fine here, then carry on.” He turned to leave, slowly making his way out of the galley with his tail behind him barely moving.

“That could have been a lot worse.” This came from Dharcia. “I’m glad no one got hurt.”

No one disagreed.

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