literature

Runs from Silence ch 2

Deviation Actions

keaalu's avatar
By keaalu

Literature Text

Flattened against the wall just around the corner, clutching a small socket wrench like it would somehow protect her from all those teeth, Mara held her breath and listened for the sound of pursuing footsteps.

In the close confines of the vessel’s chilly access corridor, the hollow clunk and subtle whistle of the hatch repressurising sounded abnormally loud. But that was it – no snarling of a hungry animal, no scratchy clawed footsteps. Nothing.

The silence drew out until it became physically uncomfortable. Mara could hear her own heartbeat, echoing in her ears. She wasn’t sure she’d ever been so aware of the million little clicks and hisses the vessel itself made, until now.

After whispering a plea to whichever deity might be looking in on her, and quietly cursing her cousin's boneheaded idiocy, Mara finally summoned the courage to inch back to the corner, and peek around the bulkhead.

The animal hadn’t got up. It lay where it had collapsed, sprawled out and inert. If not for the subtle movements of its chest, breath coming in soft, crackling wheezes, she’d have been fairly convinced it was dead.

If this was a trick to bait her out, it was a good one.

Flexing her fingers around the metal handle of her makeshift weapon, Mara edged back into the entry hall, creeping closer. Standing as far back as she could, nerves stretched out tight and ready to bolt, she reached out and poked it sharply with the claws of one foot.

Her courage promptly evaporated and she leaped back around the corner.

It didn't respond. Mara wasn't even a hundred percent sure if it was awake.

She counted ten breaths before allowing herself to inch closer again. When it remained inert, she bravely waved the wrench in front of its face.

Slivers of blue showed from beneath its hooded eyelids, but it didn't respond.

That… was probably a good thing. Right?

Not taking her eyes off their uninvited guest, Mara palmed the controls to reopen the hatch. Much as she might have wanted to, she couldn’t leave without her missing staff, not to mention somehow get the would-be stowaway back off.

Her two crew stood on the tarmac in the circle of light that marked the safe zone just beyond the end of the gangway; Jess had the decency to look suitably embarrassed, studying his toes, and slunk up the ramp behind Teeja in a pathetic attempt to avoid detection.

Mara tightened her jaw, and watched silently, trying very hard not to let her temper get the better of her.

“…we’ve got to tell security,” she heard Teeja hiss. “Just cause you let it out and it’s adopted you doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. It still belongs to someone.”

Mara gave up trying to control her temper, letting it fall like a ton of bricks on her cousin. “What in the Holy Bearer’s explosive cluster of bowel motions is all this?!”

The spur flinched backwards and tried vainly to hide behind Teeja. “Uh. I-… she wanted help?”

“She? Who’s she? You better not be talking about this thing that we now have to deal with being aboard.”

“Uh. Well.” Jess hunched his shoulders and looked away. “I didn’t know what it was, all right? I just-… I heard someone yell for help, so.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I just wanted to help. I didn’t think she was gonna follow us.”

“It asked for help?!” Mara threw up her hands.

“I thought she was a person-!”

“How in Mercy- It’s an animal! You made us late yet again, and you think nonsense like that is gonna wash? Voi kyrpa!” The medusi paced back and forth across the corridor, short agitated little steps. “I’d almost prefer that it was just Teeja being incapable of dragging you away from all the pretty fessine in the taverns, ’cause at least I could understand that!” She snorted. “I shoulda left the pair of you behind.”

“Hey, don’t drag me into it! I’m not his keeper. I tried to get him to leave it,” Teeja protested.

Mara ignored her. “I thought maybe getting you this job would have instilled a bit of responsibility into that thick skull, but nooo. You never pissing well take it seriously-”

“That’s not fair! I do take-”

“-And it reflects badly on me when you insist on slacking off and getting into trouble. And now you added theft to your tally of bad ideas? Which I’ll probably have to bail you out of. Again.”

Jess tightened his folded arms and glared at the medusi’s knees, unwilling to meet her laser-like green stare. “Good to know that you think me doing the right thing reflects badly on you.”

“The right thing?! You stole someone’s pet!” Mara gave him an aggravated shove. “Or-or… trophy, or lab specimen or… whatever the thing even actually is-!”

The animal still hadn’t moved. Its softly-rasping breath could be heard in the lull in the argument.

“Fine. Their pet needed stealing,” Jess retorted, sullen. “Have you actually taken a proper look at what they’ve done to the poor thing? It’s covered in bruises.”

Mara glanced down at it. It did look rather battered-around. “Remind me how you know this mysterious They were the ones to do it. Perhaps it did it to itself, before They rescued it. Perhaps, and here’s a weird concept for you, They were taking it to the damn vet!”

Jess scoffed wordlessly, knowing something about it didn’t sound right – that crate, for starters – but couldn’t think of anything good enough to deflect the argument.

“What’s going on here, please?”

Captain Vieno’s gentle voice sliced through the hubbub. They all turned to see the small ondras standing in the open door to the lift, having appeared as silently as ever.

He spread his hands, just a little. “Could someone please explain why we have still not left the berth? Marika? Is our fine not high enough already?”

Mara gave the most melodramatic sigh and stepped to one side, gesturing to the stricken animal in the doorway. “Because Jess decided to adopt a pet on his way home, that’s why. We can’t go anywhere until I’ve got it off the ship.” She ran her fingers through her hair and glanced at the small albino duSkai that had emerged from behind the captain. “Pip, would you give me a hand…? I need to go fetch a sled from the hold, because I’m not breaking my back trying to lift it up.”

The captain made his way through the small assembly, and crouched in front of the animal. “Oh?” He held a hand out to it, palm up. “Who do we have here?”

It studied his fingers, briefly, but didn’t move.

“Pity knows,” Mara snapped. “Jess decided to rescue it, for reasons he can’t explain.”

“I told you what happened-”

“It called for help, right. Except we’re all out here in the real world? Where you still don’t have a reasonable explanation. How did you even find it?”

“It-… I don’t know! She called out for help and I just… went the direction I thought it came from.”

“Which just conveniently happened to be a livestock warehouse, right? Paksha. Do you never think further ahead than your next meal break?”

Vieno cut in, delicately, before the two laima could get too entrenched in slinging insults again. “If we were to leave now, with an extra passenger, would we still have enough supplies to complete our deliveries?”

“I-… what?” Blindsided, Mara just stood with her mouth open for several seconds, then jerked her arms up across her chest, and blew out a sigh between pursed lips. “Yeah, I guess? We’ll be cutting it fine though. I’d prefer to restock and refuel on the way but some of our deliveries are time-sensitive and I didn’t budget into our schedule for that. We’re already gonna be tight, and [planet] might hold us up for days.” Sensing the captain’s angle, she added, casting a pleading look in Teeja’s direction: “And we’re meant to be getting the generator serviced.”

Eyes widening in alarm, the engineer put her hands up and backed off a step.

“Adjust our schedule as you see fit.” The captain’s stiff features pulled into something close to a smile. “I know I can count on your expertise.”

“You’re not taking his side and suggesting we actually leave the berth with this giant stowaway we’ve accidentally picked up thanks to my moron cousin? Last thing we need is extra weight that I didn’t take into account!”

Vieno just smiled.

Really-?!” Sensing the captain’s mind wasn’t about to be changed, Mara put up both hands in surrender, and stomped away towards her office. A string of laima curses followed her all the way to the lift.

Vieno turned to the small albino DuSkai loitering nearby. “Pip? Would you tell the pilot that we’re ready to leave the berth. I’m sure we can make the lost time up at the next port.” He glanced across to Teeja and added; “And could you go to the galley and see what we have that’s soft and easy for someone with broken teeth to eat?”

The vulline nodded just once, and shooed Pip away in front of her.

“Jevics?”

Jess drew his guilty stare up off the deck to meet the captain’s gaze. “Aye, sir?”

“I’ll need your help getting our visitor cleaned up. Come with me.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

Vieno cupped his hands under the animal’s jaw, and gently coaxed its head up off the deck. “Up you come, my dear.”

After several heartbeats just staring at him, head heavy in his palms, it managed – somehow – to drag its limbs beneath itself, ratcheting itself up first onto its elbows, then its feet, although its legs remained bandy, paws turned inwards in an attempt to avoid putting its weight on the aching soles. It hobbled towards the lift, painfully slowly, on three legs only, keeping the right forefoot tucked up to its chest.

Jess heard the note of the engine changing, felt the subtle sensation of extra weight as they lifted off the berth.

The big animal felt it too, tottering unsteadily into the wall. It stood with its feet spaced as widely as possible for support for several seconds. Jess began to wonder if maybe he should go fetch a sled for it, when finally it found a little bit of forward momentum and made it into the lift.

The freighter wasn’t precisely designed for home comforts; only the senior staff had their own little personal bathrooms. Everyone else, Jess included, shared the well-used if somewhat spartan communal bathing area on the main habitat deck that they now ushered their guest to. White splashbacks and clear plastic doors enclosed a small shower unit. Heaped towels hung untidily from drying rails. A clutter of hygiene products designed for various different species filled every shelf and countertop. Vieno’s medical kit, a large case equipped with supplies for everything from first aid to minor surgery, stood in a corner, out of the way but accessible.

Vieno examined the deformed buckle on the animal’s collar for a second or two, before picking a scalpel out of his case and simply slicing through the thick leather. “Perhaps you could find somewhere to get rid of this,” he suggested, holding it out to Jess.

The spur took it, silently, knowing it wasn’t a suggestion at all. He turned the battered collar over in his hands. The stiff leather was marred with gouges that looked like they were just far enough apart for the animal itself to have clawed them into it.

With a little gentle coaxing from Vieno, the animal climbed awkwardly into the shower basin. It sat shakily on its haunches, head dangling low, while he ran tepid water and began to tackle the filth on its pale skin. It cringed from the contact, cowering away from him, skin tensing under his gentle fingers.

The ondras didn't look up. “All right, Jess. Would you like to talk me through your evening?”

Oof. Never a good sign when the captain used your familiar name.

“Uh… right. So.” Jess pinched the bridge of his nose. “Me and Teeja had been in town for First Night. We were getting late – all right, yeah, that was mostly me – so we took a short-cut back. Thought it’d be quicker.”

“You mean, the hole in the fence, to avoid security?”

“Uhhh… yeah. That’s, uh. I didn’t realise you knew about that.” Jess cleared his throat, awkwardly. “Uh, anyway. I heard someone yell, I followed where I thought it came from, and… there she was, in the warehouse.”

“Just… sitting there? The warehouse master had raised no concerns about her condition?”

“Uh, no. In a crate. I broke her out of it.”

It sounded a lot worse, saying it out loud, but all the captain said in response was Hmm.

Jess found himself wishing for a scolding because at least he could understand that.

“Sorry, sir. I honestly didn’t know she was gonna follow us. I just wanted to help her. I mean… I thought I heard a person? She called out and she sounded scared and… I guess I just…” The spur covered his face with both hands and blew a sigh into his palms. “Skeida. I don’t even know any more.”

“That warehouse isn’t normally on your route home. How did you even hear her?”

Jess thought hard about it. “…I don’t know. I mean, later? When me and Teej were in that warehouse? We heard her bark, and it didn’t sound anything like when she yelled out to start with. I’m not even sure what I heard, now. Teej is probably right, it was just some docker who couldn’t get the night off, and she was just in the right place and looked pathetic enough for me to latch onto.”

“Hm.”

Jess felt his confidence continue to sink, although it was pretty much through the floor already.

“Teej is right. I didn’t really think hard on it.” Jess let his arms dangle. “I don’t know what I thought she was gonna do after I let her out. I guess maybe I was thinking she could just walk off to the doctor or the police or something afterwards.” He snorted out a laugh. “I kinda forgot she was an animal. You know? Maybe I watched too many stupid dramas, where animals are clever like us and everything has a meaning.”

Around the animal, soapsuds built into clouds of lather in the shower tray, surprisingly bright white for all the accumulated filth. It sure didn’t look like some magical critter that somehow understood everything. It just… sat, staring at the floor, barely responding except to occasionally cringe away.

Jess let his head bonk softly back against the wall. “I know. I made a proper mistake this time. It’s probably something super rare that someone caught as a trophy. It’ll be in all the papers about how it got stolen and I’ll be arrested and you’ll probably lose your license and skeida this is a proper explosive motion, huh. No wonder Mara had a litter, earlier.”

“I’m quite certain Mara needs no excuse to shout at you, mm?” The captain smiled, in that sort of cryptic way ondrai did so well. “And I’m not angry, Jess. I'm just... Confused. Worried.”

As the mud and grease rinsed down the drain, the animal’s weirdly marked skin showed through – unnaturally white, blotched with large blue and yellow speckles that traced a rough line up both flanks. Its limbs were purplish and sore, granted, but the skin beneath was genuinely pale blue. Neither looked natural. Engineered, perhaps.

Perhaps it wasn’t a trophy, after all. Perhaps it was an escaped lab animal. Perhaps this meant they were in even deeper trouble than they’d thought.

Skeida. Jess covered his face in both hands.

“Perhaps Mara is correct that you rarely think further ahead than your next meal, but this time I think you did the right thing,” Vieno said, unexpectedly, carefully draping a towel around the creature and blotting the worst of the water away from its smooth hide. It flinched and turned its face away from him.

Jess’s ears perked forwards, very slightly. He peered out between his fingers. “What?”

“I think there’s more to our guest than meets the eye. I certainly don’t think she’s just an animal. And I don’t think she should have been in a crate.” He shook his head, the small crystals woven into his mane rustling softly. “Although aside from that… I’m not precisely sure, just yet.”

Between them, they coaxed it – her? – out of the tub. She looked more shaky than ever, almost nosediving into the rim of the bath when her big paws slipped against the smooth ceramic, and it took both of them to support her gangling bulk.

She sat awkwardly on the floor next to the tub and refused to look up at either of them, focusing instead on the floor tiles. Now all the dirt had been washed away from her oddly-coloured skin, it became clear that she had rather been through the wars; florid purple bruises swarmed over her flanks and bracelets of raw skin encircled all four ankles. Another stripe of sore flesh arched over the bridge of her nose. She was trying to hold as many paws up off the deck as she could, without falling over; they were still leaving small purplish smudges of blood.

And she was still trembling, ever so slightly.

Perhaps she was just cold. The air in the big room hadn’t completely warmed up yet. Or something.

Hopefully she was just cold.

Vieno settled onto his knees in front of her and cracked open his medical case. “All right, friend. Let’s look at those sore feet…”

The animal dwarfed him, but she sat passively as he took her right forepaw gently into his hands, flinching subtly but allowing him to work without jerking her toes away. After a few seconds of examination, he tweezed a splinter almost as big as Jess’s little finger out of the central pad; no wonder she was limping.

“I think we need to find her a place to sleep, for a few days,” the captain said, rummaging in his case. “Perhaps she could stay in your room, for now.”

It was that tone of voice again; an order couched as a suggestion. “Captain…” Jess sighed, blowing out a long exhale through pursed lips. “I can’t even keep a plant alive. What do you expect me to do with an actual pet?”

“A pet? Hm.” Vieno didn’t look up from his work, applying disinfectant to their unexpected guest’s sore feet, dressing the worst of the raw patches. “I’m not asking you to adopt her. Just give her a place to sleep, and maybe some food, until we can figure out her story.” He let one foot go, and waited while the big animal gingerly set the paw back down on the deck before lifting the other one. “Do you think you can cope with that?”

Jess ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m not gonna be the best person for the job. Pip’s a nurse, don’t you think she’d be better at it?”

The captain glanced up, and smiled; a vague, stiff ondran smile that didn’t give much away. “Except she didn’t call out to Pip, did she? You’re the one who answered.”

“Only ’cause I got lucky. Even Teej didn’t hear anything.”

“Precisely,” Vieno said, softly. “We haven’t yet established whether our guest can even speak, and you’re the only one that heard her. Don’t you think that’s a little… strange?”

Jess stood and considered it, a moment. The animal still hadn’t lifted her gaze off the deck. “I suppose…?” He folded his arms, uncomfortably. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. And I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even know how she did it. But I do know it means that we have done more than accidentally adopt a stray animal.”

“So, uh. What, uh.” Jess fidgeted from one foot to the other, unfolding then refolding his arms. “What is she?”

Vieno sighed, softly. “I don’t know, Jess.” He sat back onto his heels, letting his hands drape down into his lap. “But I do know that she's hurt, tired, hungry and cold, and above all else she's afraid.” He shook his head. “I want to know what it is that she was so determined to run away from that she’d fling herself on the mercy of people she doesn’t even know. We may need to go to Coracina sooner rather than later if we’ve attracted attention we don’t want.”

Jess’s mouth suddenly felt very dry.

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Dawn had just begun to thread pale orange into the sky when back in the livestock shed, the animal’s captors discovered the escape.

For several seconds, the pair – a charcoal-grey nyen hind and a pale laima spur – just stood and stared at the mess. The broken crate with its confetti of shredded blue plastic, the discarded crowbar, the trail of bloody footprints leading around the corner before they vanished on the dirty concrete.

The hind finally pinched out the ember on her smokestick and flicked the spent article away. “So,” she drawled, punctuating each word with a curl of blue vapour. “You gonna tell his lordship that his experiment escaped, or are ya gonna make me do it for you? Again?”

The pale spur shrugged, loosely. “I’m no gonnae tell him yet, am I? Let’s make sure we can catch the critter again, first.” A reluctant smile pulled up one side of his face. “Besides. Escaped? Naw, it had help. He’ll probably think it’s a good thing that someone stole it. That’s some hard life experience we never coulda given it, right there.”

“We’re gonna be chasing it around for years. Again.” The hind didn’t look amused. “This is a whole bunch more hassle I coulda done without, Xand. We were meant to catch it, deliver it, and high-tail it the fuck back out before he gets the chance to manipulate us into doing any more of his dirty work.” She looked up at her comrade, leaning subtly closer. “Every time we think we’re done, he finds a new way to force our hands, and I’m tired of it. We’re not gonna be able to skate under the police’s radar forever!”

“Aie.” The spur threw up his hands, melodramatically. “Fine! Just this one job. All right, brockie? It’ll be fine. We need the money. And then we’re done. We can slip away and some other poor idiot can take over from us.”

“You said that four dragons ago!” she snapped, her long tail coiling repeatedly into stressed knots. “And here we are, neck deep in calamity again because you wouldn’t say no to him! And don’t call me ‘brockie’; I’m older than you.” She jabbed a finger into his chest. “You said this was gonna be a quick, easy job, with just enough money to get us back outta debt. And that was six years ago! We’re wound up just as tight in it as we ever were.”

“Aye, and we’re gonna get out of it, this time; trust me. So this place is a run-down shithole, granted, but it’s got surveillance, too.” Xander gestured grandly towards the little lens unobtrusively watching from a high corner. “All we have to do is report the theft, and get the cops to recover it, right? Then we dump it off with its new owner and everyone’s happy again.”

“…And you don’t agree to do anything else for Him. Ever again. Or He’ll be the least of your worries – I’ll be the one to kill you.”

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Vee-Six was a busy vessel in a small stellar fleet, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that there were more demands on the captain’s time than on a mere cargo handler’s. Eventually the ondran was called away by Mara to discuss her adjustments in their route, leaving Jess alone with his new maybe-shipmate.

He wasn’t completely sure what to do. The spur sighed, and wiped a hand over the back of his neck. “Uh, so. Follow me, I guess?”

For a few brief heartbeats, she just looked at him, before directing her gaze back at her toes.

“Um. So. Right. I guess you don’t understand me. Um.” He gestured with both arms into the corridor, a big swooping, shooing motion. “This way?”

The message seemed to get through, after a handful of repeats of increasing exaggeration. After several seconds of concerted effort, she managed to gather her wobbly hind limbs underneath herself, and push herself up from the slouched sitting position on the deck. She made an unsteady three-legged hop to the doorway, but Vieno’s efforts to treat her sore spots (and the liberal application of antiseptic) appeared to have made them even more painful. She sagged against the doorframe with a soft little hiss of hurt – the first sound Jess had heard her make since breaking out of the warehouse.

“You can lean on me, if you need to.” He held out his hands, in an offer of support, and she froze, looking away. He hastily took his hands back. “Um, all right. I guess you don’t need my help.”

His cabin wasn’t too far along the corridor – only a dozen or so rangy laima strides, but it took forever for the animal to edge her way down, leaning against the wall for support and sli-iding her feet across the deck, one by one. Her features had all tensed in a tight-lipped grimace of hurt and concentration.

Like most of his shipmates, Jess wasn’t one for obsessing over personal privacy; the heavy door was clipped open with a magnetic bolt, and a standard-issue curtain draped across the opening instead. He pulled it up out of the way and let her edge through the doorway.

Inside, his room was about as bland and functional as the bathroom – a scuffed plastic-tiled floor, dingy unpainted grey walls with a handful of family photographs and entertainment posters stuck up close to his sleeping area. A well-loved but threadbare slouchy chair occupied one corner, and a small desk stood in the other, currently cluttered to the margins with unwashed crockery and empty food wrappers. His bed was tucked into an alcove, essentially forming the lower of a pair of bunks – Teeja had the top bunk, but on the other side of the wall. On the wall above the bed was a built-in screen, ostensibly for work purposes, but Jess mostly used it for gaming.

The animal stood in the centre of his room for several wobbly seconds, eyeing his mattress. It seemed to Jess as though she was weighing up her chances of getting up onto it. He felt a clutch of alarm, and debated ducking in front, telling her no; that was his bed after all, and where was he gonna sleep? They could hardly share it, it was barely big enough for him, and she was probably twice his weight at a minimum-

She turned away from it, and a mixed wave of guilt and relief curdled together in his stomach.

Instead, she limped over to his rug – a small circular piece of shaggy carpet, one of the few home comforts in the small cabin. She curled up on that, instead, facing the wall, pressing up as close to it as she could manage, tucking her head down at her side and unfolding a winglet to cover her face.

Jess fetched a spare blanket from the small cupboard built into the wall. It was barely big enough to cover her, but he gingerly draped it over her anyway, hoping she’d understand it was meant as a friendly gesture.

She didn’t respond. The eye he could see was definitely still open, but she refused to make eye-contact.

Jess let his arms dangle. How was he meant to reassure her that he didn’t mean any harm when he didn’t speak her language? If she could even speak, of course. And wasn’t, y’know. Just an animal.

After running on [adrenaline] for so long, he suddenly felt exhausted. He plopped down on his mattress, making his pile of cushions bounce, and rubbed his temples. “Nngh.”

“Hey.”

He glanced up to see Teeja in his doorway. “Oh, hey. A’right?”

The vulline offered an uneasy, toothy smile, and her tail beat briefly from side to side. “Captain said you were here. I got it some food?”

“She’s a her, Teej. Not an it.” He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, and tried to rub away some of the need to sleep. “But thanks. I’d forgotten about that.”

“Yeah, I reckoned you probably would have.” She handed over a small white bowl, half-full of a sort of cold, glossy brown porridge.

“Pudding?” Jess challenged. “That’s meant to be emergency rations.”

“Hey. Best I could do, at short notice. I’m an engineer, not a chef. Besides, it’s soft, and nutritious, and Vieno said its teeth were broken. That sounds like an emergency to me.”

Jess set the offering down near the animal’s nose, hoping if she could smell it, she might take the logical next step of eating it. She spared it a single glance, and otherwise looked uninterested.

“You figured out a name for it-… for her, yet?” Teeja prompted. “Seeing as we can’t exactly keep calling her ‘the animal’.”

“No. I don’t think she understands common, and I’m not sure she can even speak – not like we do, anyway.” Jess tucked his feet up onto the mattress and laced both hands over his ankles. “I was thinking maybe we could call her something descriptive, for now. Until we can figure out how to communicate.”

“Hn.” She leaned against the wall, just inside the doorway, and folded her arms.

He narrowed his eyes, warily. “You think giving her a name is a bad idea?”

“No. I just-…” She wafted a hand. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit optimistic, thinking she’s eventually gonna be able to chat with you? We don’t even know if she’s got the brains to do anything except bark.”

“I’unno. I guess I’d rather hope for the best? Assume she’s smart, like us, because if she is then we won’t have offended her by treating her like an animal.” But he recognised something in Teeja’s expression that made his optimism deflate. “You’re siding with Mara.”

Teeja drew in a long breath and let it out slowly before committing to her answer. “Yeah. I think she’s right.” She put her hands up in an effort to ward off Jess’s protests. “The creature’s not really shown any signs of being particularly intelligent, and while you and the captain were giving it a bath, Pip and I did some research on it- her. Well, tried to.”

“Yeah? You know what she is?”

“That’s just it! According to all the references we checked? She doesn’t exist. We couldn’t find any references to her species at all. A handful of creatures that looked similar, but not her.”

Jess pursed his lips.

Teeja studied their stowaway for a few seconds. “I think she’s a big seng, perhaps. She looks similar, she makes the same sort of sounds.”

“Last I heard, seng don’t have six limbs.”

“No, and they ain’t this big, either. Or blue. But we know there’s labs that are happy to play around with genetics, so long as you give them enough money.”

“And someone what – paid ’em to splice in a whole extra set of limbs, with functional muscles and blood and bone and everything that goes with them, that don’t even seem to work?”

“I’m. Just. Saying.” Teeja put her hands up, defensively. “I’m hoping she’s only a lab animal, not something important. You’ve got us caught up in this, and we have no idea how bad it might be. We don’t know what she is, we don’t know where she was going, we don’t know who she belongs to,” she ticked each point off on her fingers, “and we don’t know if she’s dangerous.”

“Aw, come on, I hardly think-“

“Big teeth. Big claws. Fast. I think it stands to reason she’s a predator. And I don’t want to turn into supper, once she’s feeling better.” Teeja gave him a hard look. “I’m trusting you here, Jess. I’d rather not have helped you rescue her from a crate, only to have to put her back in one in our hold. Assuming we can even catch her.”

Jess rubbed a hand across the bridge of his nose. “Fine. I guess. I just--” He slumped and let his arms dangle. “I don’t think she’s dangerous! Not to us. Or she’d have done something, right? Scared, hurt animals lash out, and she hasn’t. She knows we’re trying to help her.”

Jess could see Teeja wavering, and pushed his advantage.

“D’you think you could rig a translation loop to fit her? It’ll resolve it for definite.”

Teeja voiced the loudest sigh she could manage and gave her eyes a very obvious roll, but turned her attention back to their guest and gave her a critical visual once-over. “That’s only going to be any good if her language is loaded in the database. But I guess I could try. I just need to figure out a way to hook the earpiece in place so it doesn’t fall out.” She perked her head to one side. “Those wee horns might do the trick.”

Jess found a feeble grin for her. “Thanks, Teej. I owe you one.”

“You do. And I will be sure to claim on it.” The vulline waggled a vaguely chastising finger at him in a point. “If I don’t see you tomorrow morning, I’ll assume she ate you.”

“Ha ha. I think?”

Jess lay awake staring at the low ceiling for most of the night.

The seam of corridor light bleeding in under the curtain never normally bothered him, but tonight it seemed to suck all the rest of the light out of his room. The animal was a ghost under her blanket - mostly silent, but every now and then Jess could hear her breathing; long, slow, uncomfortable rasps.

He wondered if she was still awake. And what she might have been thinking about.

Hopefully not about eating them.
The crew try to decide what to do with their "stowaway" (or whatever they should call her).

And her owners discover that she's been stolen. Oops! Should have made sure you weren't on camera, Jess.
Published:
© 2020 - 2021 keaalu
Comments1
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drskytower's avatar

Lovely story! The characters are so sweet and charming! I really enjoy your writing style... (especially your Transformer fic and I'm not even a Transformer fan!) so detailed yet easy to read and understand.