hares-recovery

Ares, Part 2

“You know, there’s a lot of stores closer than this.”

“They don’t give me a discount.”

“You get a discount at a pet supply store…?” Lenard started, then shook his head. “Never mind.”

“It’s not what you think.” Tari smiled as they entered the small shop. A chime sounded in the back as she pushed the door open. “This is a family business.”

“Be right with… Tarioshi?” A young asian lady stepped around a bead curtain and nearly ran up to them, embracing Tari in a warm hug. “Good to see you! Who’s your handsome friend?”

“Traize, Lenard Evanson. He’s in his last year at the university. Len, Traize Renada. My … what would you call us… Half-sisters?”

“If you want to get all technical. It’s a pleasure, Lenard.” She shook his hand firmly, locking eyes with him. “Hmm… There’s a question brewing in that head of yours, isn’t there? Spit it out.”

“Well… I was just curious, if you two are sisters, why you look so… different.”

“Same mother,” Tari replied simply. “Different fathers… Oh, you mean right now. Personal preferences. She’s preferred staying with an asian look for as long as I’ve known her, while I’ve come to enjoy a bit more caucasian in my approach.”

“Then…” Lenard tried, uncertain of how to phrase the inquiry.

“Ah, he knows, does he?” Traize smirked, eyeing him up and down. “Is he one of us too? I can’t quite tell, but I’m leaning more toward ‘yes.’ He’s got the look in his eyes… Though, his lack of confidence in asking the question… Hm. I still say ‘yes.’”

“No, he’s human.”

“Really? Well, I’ll put him on your account anyway.” Traize stepped around the checkout counter, her human appearance blurring into that of an auburn-furred kitsune as she moved away. A quartet of tails swayed behind her as she poked the checkout terminal. “Let’s see now… Mister Evanson… Is it ‘Leonard’ with an ‘O?’”

“L-e-n-a-r-d.” Tari spelled.

“Someone was feeling fancy. Still relates to the English ‘Leonard,’ which itself comes from the French ‘Léonard’ and German ‘Leonhard.’ Lion-strong.”

“I feel more like a cub these days.” Lenard smirked, his eyes moving to the storefront. “I better understand mirrored shop windows, now.”

“It’s not the only reason,” Traize replied, keying information into the register. “Fits the store’s facade better than having the blinds shut all the time. I do prefer being myself when I’m able. Going as a human just never sat right with me once I’d discovered the alternatives. No offense.”

“Oh, none taken at all. I’ll agree that we aren’t the most graceful at times. Most times, at that.”

Traize laughed, shaking her head. “Quite the opposite. You’re graceful in expression as a people - music, art, all the finer things that we as a subculture have not independently developed. I just don’t like to hide who I really am when it’s safe to be myself. You know, it used to be easy to tell who was a fellow kitsune. There are so many that are undetectable in a human form anymore… And there’s a growing number of false positives. I really could have mistaken you, Lenard. There’s an energy about you that most humans don’t have.”

“Really?” Tari questioned. “I haven’t noticed anything.”

Traize nodded, leaning on the counter. “I’m not surprised you haven’t picked up on it. It’s pretty weak, but it’s definitely there. I only see it once in a while, enough to make it difficult to judge who is what. We don’t see much for kin out here, being so far from home, so it’s not such a big deal… Best to err on the side of caution. Still - they say that every one in a thousand people you pass on the street isn’t human, did you know that? And even those few, they’re not all us. There’s… Well, never mind that. Don’t want to spook you youngsters before you make a purchase.”

“If it’s all right with you ladies, I’m going to look around here a bit.” Lenard politely excused himself and wandered toward the back aisles of the store to browse. Tari sighed, shaking out her hair as she relaxed back into her kitsune form.

“Oh, you’ve three tails now!” Traize exclaimed. “Congratulations! When was the new arrival?”

“A few months ago. Birthday present came early.”

“I’d say. You don’t trip over the two-century marker until the end March, right?”

“April first.”

“Right, right. You’d think I’d remember that - it explains so much about you.”

“Blah, blah. Thought I’d been in here since then?”

“Yeah, you may have been, but there’ve been other customers all the time and you were just breezing through. Didn’t stop to chat.”

“Ah, probably so.” Tari stole a glance at Lenard, seeing him looking into an empty gerbil cage. The store was just supplies; no live animals were kept. “I’ve been busy.”

“I can see why.” Traize sighed, lowering her voice. “I see that look in your eyes… More than that, I can smell him all over you. More than just friends, aren’t we now?”

“Dating for a little while now, yes.”

“You know the edicts -“

“And I know you’re just as much against them as I am.” Tari stared into her sister’s eyes. “I love him, Traize. I can’t leave him just because of some archaic law. Times have changed in the last thousand years and the Nines don’t understand that this isn’t their feudal Japan anymore. We live in an entirely different world than they did.”

“The important things stay the same - what happens eighty years from now when he dies of old age?”

“I lose him. His knowledge of me wouldn’t change that. Until then, I plan to be with him.”

“If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that…” Traize put a hand over her eyes, shaking her head. “I just hope you know what kind of hole you’re getting yourself into. If the Nines hear about this -“

“They won’t. I’m just one little rogue three-tail in the middle of North America. There’s no reason for them to pay attention to what I’m doing. I’m not about to write home and tell them. Are you?” Tari asked softly.

“Please… You know me better than that.” Traize hesitated for several seconds, a grin building on her muzzle. “I do have to admit… He is kind of cute in a lost puppy sort of way. I’d probably take him home, too.”

Lenard smiled as he gave a suddenly very startled Tari a hug from behind. “Though I think I appreciate the sentiment, I have enough on my hands dealing with this bundle of energy. Thank you, none the less, Miss Tracy.”

“Trai-ze,” she corrected. “It’s French. Sort of. Long story.”

“You could have warned me he was sneaking up,” Tari scolded, trying to nonchalantly smooth the bristled fur of her tails.

“I thought you knew me better than that.” Traize cackled. “So, this just a social visit or are you actually going to hand over some currency for a change?”

“Len’s shampoo sucks. I need some of our special blend. Had to get away from the morbid news reports for a while, too.”

“Oh, you’ve been following that too? Did you see the size of that hole? I can’t imagine what -“

“Nnh!” Tari covered her ears. “Don’t! Please! I’ve been watching that damned screen for three days! I need a break from all the predictions of death…”


“Extrapolation’s done.” T’bia spun her chair forward, moving the results to the larger screens. “I can say with eighty-five percent certainty that they were hit by a rogue singularity originating from within the testing range.”

“The other fifteen percent?”

“One that came from somewhere else. We have to go track it down and get rid of it after we’re done here. The TFC Committee’s received a copy of the findings… I can’t imagine they’re happy about the report.”

“No, they most definitely are not.” Casi drummed her fingers on the console, listening to the conference with one ear. “I suspect we’re going to pay heavily for the Fleet’s oversight on cleanup…”

“Who is ‘we?’”

“You, Jadyn, myself. Ever thought about a career as an ambassador? We’re about to be named the first three to Terra.”

“Ouch.”

“With your evidence in hand I could overrule the committee and take charge of the contact procedures myself. However, I can’t wholly disagree with what they’ve raised for concerns. So. As of immediately, our ‘vacation’ has been effectively cancelled. We’re to lend whatever assistance we can in the immediate issue and then do our best to get started on the right foot with the Terran governments. After we clean up the singularity, of course. How do you go about finding one, anyway?”

“Set the scanners to look for anything they can’t see, then invert the image.”

“You liar.”

“Yes, but it sounds good, no? What about the whole diplomatic delegation they were going to train?”

“The core FC mission training schedule will be accelerated from five years to half a year. An additional group will be ready in a year. We’re to remain here until the first delegation arrives. Until then, any resources available to the Commonwealth that we require are at our disposal. Ships, interim crew, anything.”

“Could be worse.” Jadyn stepped back into the cockpit, adjusting his Fleet uniform. “We could be starting an interstellar war.”

“We still might, if we screw this rescue up.” T’bia drew up the visual of the Ares II. “Even with the thin atmosphere, we can’t tow them to the surface without getting them killed in the shape that they’re in. Every simulation has proven that. We might just be able to stabilize their orbit without tearing their craft apart, though. Not sure what we’ll do after that.”

“What about a site-to-site transport right now? Could shuffle them all from the Ares II to Ares base in one pass.”

“We’re on the wrong side of the planet. They won’t be in transporter range of the base camp before they get crispy. Could do that after we have them in stable orbit, though.”

“Nnn… Crap. How much time?”

“Ten minutes.”

“One more thing, Jadyn.” Casi looked out the window, studying the Terran ship. “Someone needs to accept our aid before you actually do anything. If they decline, the Contact program dies with them. We will scrap all plans for contact and make this sector a permanent no-fly-zone.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Sadly, I am not. The committee has insisted that we honor their choice in the matter.”

“The committee can go straight to -“

“Jay,” T’bia voiced softly, cutting off his angered retort. “We’re burning daylight.”

“Right… Right, fine. Let’s introduce ourselves to the natives and get this on the road. Open an audio channel on the frequencies they’re using. And someone poke me if I miss something important.”

T’bia nodded. “Want me to scramble stuff headed Terra’s way?”

“Casi?”

“No. Let them hear it.”

“You heard the boss.” Jadyn looked out at the small ship, taking a quiet breath and forcing himself to think in Terran English. “Terran interplanetary vessel Ares II. Are you receiving this transmission?”

Several seconds of silence remained on the channel before a reply came. “Ares base, is that one of your crew?” a female queried.

A deep male baritone replied a moment later. “Wasn’t us, Ares II. My staff is accounted for.

As is mine.

“My apologies if I’ve startled you either of you. Before I continue, I’m afraid I am required to ask a painfully obvious question. Ares II, do you require assistance at this time?”

What kind of sick joke is this? Who is broadcasting on this channel?

“Ma’am, we could waste what little precious time you have remaining and debate the legitimacy of this communication, or you could reply with a simple ‘yes’ and avert your impending doom. I expected that some additional proof of my sincerity would be required so let’s just cut to the chase.” Jadyn reached over to the cloak’s control and disengaged the field generator. “If you’d kindly look out the… port side, I believe, of your vessel.”

“Eight minutes,” T’bia announced.

“I’d love to have something profound or even simply insightful to share with you at this moment. For lack of content, I will take a stab in the dark at confirming a few things that are probably floating in your mind. One, we are not of Terran origin. We’re not from the planet you call ‘Earth.’ We’ve traveled here from what you might consider a G3 star a little under forty light-years from your own sun. Number two, we are not human. Three, yes, that means aliens are offering to help you. Congratulations. You’ve made first contact. Do you require assistance at this time?”

Silence reigned over the channel for several minutes. Whether the humans were stunned or terrified, he could only guess. T’bia finally broke the quiet with a short announcement. “Three minutes until atmospheric entry.”

“Ares II… In two and a half minutes, we will not be able to save your ship before it breaks apart in the atmosphere. In three, we will no longer be able to save the lives of those aboard. I am allowed to lend emergency aid to a society we have not officially contacted and who is otherwise unaware of our existence if and only if a member of that independent, sovereign world requests such aid. I will ask one final time before we are forced to depart: Do you require assistance?”

I… Yes. Any assistance you can render would be appreciated and welcome.

Jadyn glanced over his shoulder; Casi gave him a confirming nod. “Understood, Ares II. We are going to attempt to stabilize your orbit. I must warn you that we’re uncertain of the effect our tether will have on your already weakened vessel.”

Understood. Please proceed.

“Thank you. Bee, it’s all yours.”

“Ares II, tow is beginning. Stand by.” A particle beam lashed out from the belly of the Serin, taking hold of the transport before them. “Channel’s muted. Ares II’s structural stresses are increasing beyond safe towing limits. We need to reduce their mass.”

“How much?”

“At least half. Remember our little asteroid relocation fiasco a decade or so ago?”

“We used a modified Displacement field to change the effective mass of that honker… Right. Extending shield perimeter around the Ares II. Reconfiguring engines to the new field parameters… Set. Bringing the core to one-quarter power.”

“Mmm… Not good enough. Coast up to half power… Easy… Wait, hold there.”

“Holding at thirty-four percent.”

“Their effective mass is down by forty-six percent. The tether’s causing a resonance within their structure. Attempting to compensate.”

“Stress fractures are expanding from their damaged section.”

“I see it… Damn! This isn’t going to work. We’re falling back on plan C.”

“What happened to plan B? Void, what was plan B?”

“For any given plan ‘A’ failure, plan ‘B’ never works entirely well either. I’m skipping ahead today. Ares II: Towing your vessel is not possible. Prepare for emergency evacuation.”


2 Responses

  1. Tsunari says:

    “Traize nodded, leaning on the counter. “I’m not surprised you haven’t picked up on it. It’s pretty weak, but it’s definitely there. I only see it once in a while, enough to make it difficult to judge who is what. We don’t see much for kin out here, being so far from home, so it’s not such a big deal… Best to err on the side of caution. Still - they say that every one in a thousand people you pass on the street isn’t human, did you know that? And even those few, they’re not all us. There’s… Well, never mind that. Don’t want to spook you youngsters before you make a purchase.”

    Foreshadowing for the next episode?

  2. Andrew says:

    I’m looking forward to the next chapters. Something tells me that it’ll get pretty interesting. :)

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