No Way Back – Chapter 23

This is normally where I go “YAY!” because I posted a chapter.   However, if you’ve been reading this, then you’ll already expect it, so I’ll skip it this time. 

Z.z.z.z.z.z.z

Chapter 23

After a long breakfast in which Dharcia went over, for a second time, the numerous different species and Ter’link commented about what made them each attractive, we begin taking a more job-oriented tour of the ship. Since we’re already in the mess hall, we start with basic maintenance of the replicators and the components that allow for an easy transition between the usual “day” configuration and a more active “night” setup. The replicators didn’t seem to be too much more than basic circuitry until Ter’l opened the actual generation chamber. Thousands of tiny adjusters and what amounted to atom cannons that would have required a microscope to build filled the unit and I quickly suggested that it wasn’t something I should be doing since I didn’t have the most stable hands. The machines for the room changes, though, were quite literally magnetic levitation tracks that the tables and other furnishings followed just under the floor. The maintenance would have involved a few years worth of study into the physics of the system. Knowing that I don’t have that much time to my name convinces me that I should look elsewhere.

The Commons was the next location. There, Dharcia makes a point of offering counseling as an option. I politely decline and explain that I wouldn’t have any idea where to start with that. Being the only member of my race on-board, my insights might not be what would be best for everyone. Afterwords, Ter’link and Dharcia begin pointing to different options. Landscaping. Water quality maintenance. Structural inspections. Custodial. Security. None of these are things mentioned make me feel important or overly needed, but I do decide to consider doing security since it would aide in learning the other species as well as introduce myself more effectively and in a less fearful light. As we walk along the main pathway I start to take notice of the crew alternately staring or hiding their gazes, and being able to approach them would make it easier for me teach them about myself and my race. At least that’s how I see it.

After an hour of walking and speaking with different shop owners, we sit next to the pool that rests at the bottom of the waterfall. Dharcia catches up to Ter’link and I with a few liquid containers holding a dark blue liquid. She gives us each one and the two begin sipping out of their individual holders. Me, however, I’ve never seen it before. I bring it to my nose to take a whiff of what’s there. I am treated to a sweet scent that reminds me of a purple grape juice that had been mixed with extra sugar.

“What exactly are we drinking here?”

Ter’link drops his container from his lips with a satisfied ahhhh. “This is ni’enitbur juice. It even tastes like it was freshly bottled, too! Try it!” The bottle returns to his face as he takes in another gulp.

“Don’t worry, Robert. It’s safe. Practically everyone on-board can drink it. It just appeals more to less carnivorous palates.”

My gaze drift to the right towards the mephit as she speaks to find that she’d gotten herself comfortable, laying on her side with her feet pointed towards Ter’l. Not for the first time, I notice her petite yet still rather attractive form. Barefoot like most of the crew, her purple-furred foot-paws jut out from the dark uniform and attach to a more digigraded ankle. But past that, her toned thighs match up to a nicely-curved hip where her free hand-paw rests. As my eyes continue the travel to her face, they drift past her not-as-obviously athletic arms and tight abs, then over her smaller but still full breasts before finding her purple furred neck and face, her pink eyes as bright as the smile she wore between sips of her juice. For a moment, I find myself thinking, “If she was a human…”

“Well, are you going to try it or not?” Dharcia’s words snap me out of my own thoughts she laughs as I shake myself back to the present. “You’ll be fine! I’m,” she pauses as she thinks about it, “almost sure.” With that, the paw that was resting on her hip comes forward and points at my bottle. “Why don’t you try it?”

I slowly lift the bottle to eye-level The liquid sloshes inside the container as I gently shake it. Then I bring it to my nose to take a sniff of what’s inside again. “It… It smells almost like grape juice.”

Ter’link lets his now empty bottle drop from his lips, then asks, “What’s a “grape?”

“It’s a fruit from home. Kinda like a big berry, but they grow in bunches on vines.”

Dharcia smiles and I see her tail lift behind her body, then drape down her hip. “These grow on a vine, too. Who knows, maybe they’re related. Now would you try it already?”

I take a quick sip of it to discover that it doesn’t just smell like grape juice, but almost tastes like it, too! I take a bigger drink to allow the flavor to fill my mouth. The sweet-tart taste is just like I remember from home, save for a slight bitter under-taste. “Wow! It tastes almost like grape juice, too! It does taste a little funny, though. Kinda bitter beneath the sweet juice. Is that normal?”

Ter’l chuckles as he replies. “Well, yes. Just don’t drink too much, or you’ll find yourself a little woozy.”

“Woozy?”

Dharcia smiles as she sits up and finishes the bottle in a few loud gulps. “Certainly. The heavier stuff is a favored sleep aide for some. Intoxicant for others.”

“It’s alcoholic?”

Ter’link and Dharcia look at each other for a moment, then back to me and answer almost simultaneously. “What’s that?”

I fidget slightly in the grass before I try to answer. “Well, on Earth, if you let a juice sit out with the right kinds of bacteria, it’ll digest the sugar. The waste product is toxic, but only in very large quantities. In small doses, it does what you say that this juice can be used for.”

They both stand, and I follow suite. Once we’re standing, Dharcia leans in and whispers into my ear, “Then, yes, it is. And don’t tell Nishka that we had some, because it’s not supposed to be consumed on-duty.”

– –

The jobs tour picks up speed as we make our way through the maintenance halls. Every so often, Ter’link stops and points out certain pieces of machinery that I could possibly work with. Each junction has its own separate uses. Some control water distribution. Others control power, while still others help with communications and control. The power boxes piqué my interest as they look rather simple in design, with a configuration very similar to the fuse boxes that we use at home. We tour the data centers, the bridge, and the combat training facilities in what feels like a whirlwind of information and professions that are available. I’d decided to look up a few when Ter’link stops and presses a button on the lift and then ushers us in. “Well, now that I’ve bored you with the unnecessary options,” Dharcia interjects with a huff, but he continues, “I’m going to take you to where I know you’d rather work.”

The door hisses shut before Dharcia says anything. “And just where’s that, you pompous windbag? I think he’d do very well in the medical center!” Her arms are crossed across her chest as she glares as the Eil’phae. “He’d be a quick study!”

“Uhhh…”

Ter’link cuts me off. “Oh, please, he said he wants to help with something important. In med-bay, he’d only be important when someone decides to be sick.” He looks at me with a wide grin before he continues. “But the engine bay is where you’ll be constantly working to help us keep this ship running!”

Dharcia’s voice raises in irritation as her ears fold back against her hair. “Only if someone decides to be sick? You’ve got to be kidding me! There are a huge number of things that he can do with the medical office, and I don’t mean standing around and pushing the occasional button to have the repair bots do the work for you!”

At this point I tune out the argument as I look through the transparent sides of the lift. The lights flash past in quick succession as we plunge several levels down into the engineering level. As the lift stops I feel a slight fluttering in my stomach that I’ve learned is the gravity generator on the ship compensating for the sudden shift of weight from the lift’s movements. The doors hiss open and I step out quickly, then turn around to face the two arguing parties. “Ahem!”

It was a bit louder than I meant, but it worked. They both turn to me with unpleasantness in their eyes and respond with the same shouted, “What?!”

“Look, I’m the one who needs to find a job that suits me. And, yes, the med-bay is one area that I am considering. So is communications officer, electrical technician, and,” I stress the next part to make sure the argument stops, “underwear salesman!” Both aliens lower their head in embarrassment. “But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see what’s down here. Now, quit arguing and let’s go! I don’t know how long the Commander’s giving me to choose a job!”

Dharcia nods and steps from the lift. “You’re right. I’m sorry I lost my head.” She looks over to Ter’link, who’d also stepped from the elevator. “And I’m sorry to you, too. I know your work is more than just button-pushing.”

“I’m sorry, too…” Ter’link’s long, pink ears are uncharacteristically flat against his long red hair. “Med-bay is useful for many things, not just sick patients. I should know, I visit often enough.”

“Alright, we’re all sorry. Now come on!” I start to walk in the direction that the wall sign indicates is engineering, leaving my escorts to hurry and catch me.

The next hour was spent touring different aspects of the engine rooms. First was the energy containment room. The room held the ship’s fuel, a series of glowing orange rocks that emanated a regular amount of energy that was harvested by receivers that line the room. They ran on tracks that cross-crossed the walls and ceiling. When I asked why not just use a tighter containment, Ter’link explained that a tighter arrangement of the fuel tended to cause instability. That worked for me!

Next was the conversion chamber. Its job, as was explained to me, was to facilitate the change between the randomized collections into usable energy. That meant changing it to electrical energy, thermal energy, and even nuclear particles. The nuclear particles, Ter’l explains, is to drive the ship. The only jobs there are the collection of the nuclear particles and the replacement of the discharged nuclear waste to be re-converted, and I decide then that I wouldn’t be interested.

Last on his specialization tour was the actual drive units that moved the ship. They were huge, and that were only the visible parts that were in the room! Each one of the four drive units were easily the size of a trailer doubled-up. They connected to the power nacelles through a series of glowing pipes and wiring, and they led out of the walls of the room. Ter’link was very vague about the aspects of its functionality, no doubt by Grai’gahrd’s orders, but what he said made it seem worth learning. I added Drive Engineer and Nacelle Tech to my growing list of options as we pressed on through the room.

Finally, after having granted a long and extensive work-tour of the ship, Ter’link, Dharcia, and I sat in the engineering break room. Dharcia looked unusually disheveled, her uniform unusually wrinkled and her normally perfect hair dampened in sweat. Ter’link, on the other hand, looked perfectly content and, in fact, ready to do more. As we sit, Dharcia drinks the water that she’d poured herself a moment before. Ter’link decides to ask the obvious question. “So, have you found anything like what you wanted to do?”

I look between the both of them slowly before I react. “To be honest, there’s a lot of things for me to consider. Technology is very different between what I know and what you have here.” I take a drink from my own water cup before I continue. “But, there’s plenty that I can do, so long as someone’s willing to teach me.”

Dharcia seems exhausted as she lifts her head to look in my direction. “Good. The fewer times we have to do this, the better.”

“Well, it’s almost shift change so we can’t stay here. But there are a few more places I’d like to show you.” Ter’link stands, then gestures out the door. “Come on, you two. We’ll be out of here in a few minutes. Then I can treat you do a drink, Dharcia, for putting up with this.”

“It’s fine, Ter’l. Let’s just be quick, please?” The mephit stands slowly, brushing her hair with her paws and then tossing her water cup into the waste bin.

He leads us down into the corridor, then cuts right before the lift towards a sign that says “Ready Room.” Once inside, he greets the officer on duty, then pushes past and into the ship’s starfighter hangar. “Look around!”
“Ter’l!” Dharcia’s voice was full of anger. “The commander specifically said that we’re not to take him to ship-specific defenses!”

“These aren’t ship-specific! Let him look! What’s he gonna do?”

By the time they realize it, I’m already looking between the myriad of different spacecraft. So many shapes and designs that I couldn’t find anything that reminded me of an aircraft from home. Some had similar designs, but that usually just meant that they had two main wings and stabilizers. There were three-winged, four-winged, some didn’t have any! I pick my way through the berths and the different design schemes, noting different aspects that seemed to come with the individual race markers. There were more than a hundred craft throughout the room, and I picked my way quickly through it in a self-guided tour.

As I reach the end of the hangar, I find another door. I peer through the window and let out a loud gasp. “It can’t be!” I exclaim before turning around and yelling across the hanger. “Ter’link! I want in here!”

A few moments later Ter’link and Dharcia, still arguing about the finer points of the order, make their way across the hangar and to the entryway that I’m standing at. When they finally look at me, Dharcia’s eyes widen. “No! No, I draw the line!”

“Dharcia, please. I know you don’t want to get in trouble, but I’m serious! Let me in there!”

Ter’link nods before he turns to Dharcia again. “I wasn’t going to show him this but he seems adamant about it. We’ll just stay close and make sure nothing happens, alright?”

She looks around for a few moments, obviously deliberating the possible consequences. Finally her ears fall flat again to her head as she nods. “Alright. In reality, these aren’t ship defenses, but I don’t think Mergrayne would be happy with us showing him these.”

Ter’link lifts his left hand-paw to a scanner next to the door. A moment later, the machine beeps and the door slides open, obviously heavy on its tracks. As the door becomes wide enough to pass through I practically push Ter’l out of the way and run into the wide and tall hangar. I slide to a stop roughly half-way through its width and look around in amazement. Finally, I look back to my escorts who’d finally entered the room and were moving quickly to catch up. I point across the room and ask, “What are you doing with a DarkWolf on-board?!”

The look on Ter’link’s face would have been appropriate had a driven a truck into him. He tried to respond, but most of his words came out as sputters. He closes his eyes, then opens them again before he can finally respond. “A DarkWolf?”

“Yes! That’s a DarkWolf! I’d recognize it anywhere! And it’s still in its stock configuration, a heavy and medium laser on each arm pod and a center-mounted medium cannon!” I point each of the items out as I speak. “And the shoulder units look like they’re carrying a five short-range missile launcher each.” I point to the Bot to its left. “And you have a pair of Black Widows, both set to stock configuration B.” I took the time to point to each of the machines, identifying them each by name before I looked at Ter’link expectantly.

Dharcia stepped in for the speechless mechanic. “Robert,” she starts as she steps up closer to me with an air of confusion about her, “I am going to ask you something and you need to tell me the truth.”

“Okay…”

“How did you know about these war machines?”

I look back at the DarkWolf ChromeBot as I respond. “That’s my favorite combat unit in the game, but it’s in need of a serious load-out change.” My gaze drops to the floor for a moment before I spin to face Dharcia again. “These are only supposed to be a game. Why do you have them for real?”

Ter’link brings his right hand-paw to what appears to be a stain on his overalls and taps it. “Commander Grai’gahrd, I really think you need to hear this.”

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3 Comments on “No Way Back – Chapter 23”


  1. Very good fiction.Thank you.

  2. jimmy Says:

    makes me want to drink alchoholic beverages


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