Brian W. Antoine
September 18, 1993
The raptor sat with its front end in the garage and its stub winged tail end sitting in the driveway.
"No fit good" mused Jab. The cat had watched me raise a sweat trying to muscle the ship into place.
"You could have helped, cat. This thing isn't light."
"Meenzal" corrected Jabberwock.
I decided that it wasn't doing much good to have the ship sit the way it was. It would only make life difficult when it came time to get it ready for flight. I put my back up against a stubwing and began to push backwards. My feet slipped a little on the driveway, then the ship began to inch backwards. Jab watched this for a minute and then hopped onto the canard. He stood on his hind legs and put his paw on the emblem to destabilize the entry area. A second later, he hopped inside. Since I was pushing, I couldn't see him but it's apparent that he turned on the power and engaged the antigrav. I say apparent because the raptor suddenly responded to my pushing by suddenly zipping backwards until it slammed into the family car. It didn't hurt the ship, but the car was going to need body work.
"Push easy" called Jab from the cockpit.
"Stupid cat!" I hissed at him. Jab poked his head through the astable hull area and glared at me.
"Meenzal" he snapped.
"Stupid Meenzal. Now shove over. I have to move this thing into the back yard."
Before I could step to the entry, the ship rose into the air and went neatly over the garage roof, pivoted, and sat down sweet as you please on the lawn. I heard the power unit spool down and Jab hopped out. I stood looking at him. Either I was hallucinating, or my cat just flew my spacecraft.
"Good Jab?" asked the Meenzal as he padded over.
"Yeah, Jab. That was, uh, just fine."
It came to me that there was a lot I didn't know about my cat, and that it was high time I learned what I could. With Jab at my heels, I went into the house and fetched the book that Brian had left me. I sat down in a comfortable chair and opened it up. It made for some interesting reading.
According to Velar history, a starship had crashed on the planet. While none knew for sure how many, it was assumed that twelve Meenzai had survived the crash. The ship was a total loss, and suffered an explosion about an hour after it impacted the planet. Because of this, there were a number of unanswered questions. The first was what kind of power the ship used, the second was where it came from exactly, and the third was a question as to whether the Meenzai were crew or cargo.
I looked down at Jab who had taken his usual position behind my feet. He was watching me, and the look on his face could only be described as one of curiosity. I paged through the book until I found a picture. It was like a photograph, but obviously wasn't. It was some other method, and it was better. It showed a Meenzal sitting on a tree limb, looking down at the person taking the picture. I held the book so that Jab could see the picture. He immediately jumped to my lap and looked very closely at the page.
"Neefla? Is that a name or a thing?"
"Is Neefla" said Jab again. He seemed a bit impatient.
"I don't get it, Jab. What's a neefla?"
*No words have Jab*
"You mean, you can't explain this?"
I sighed and closed the book. "Jab, I want to know this. I mean, I want to know about you."
"Know about you"
"Yes, you're my Jab and my friend." The cat nuzzled my chin and purred. I enjoyed the sensation for a second, then had a thought. I put the cat under my arm and went back out to the raptor. In a moment, we were both inside. "Ok, kitty. Let's see if this really will work."
I fired up the power and engaged the instrumentation. Part of that was the replacement for the headset. Instead of having to put in something like a walkman headphone, this unit was built into the cabin ceiling and walls. With the instrumentation engaged, Jab and I were essentially linked telepathically. I opened the book again and showed the picture to Jab.
*Een sen bo neefla*
*I don't understand*
*Een sen be our pilot*
*Pilot? His name was Een sen?*
*No, SHE was our pilot*
*Good god. That's amazing. What else can you tell me?*
Jab crawled up my chest and put his head very close to mine. I felt a moment of disorientation --maybe a bit of nausea. Then I could almost see into the cat's mind. Images came and went at a high rate. In just seconds it was over, and when it was, I knew.
"Your name is Nahn."
"Nahn is Jab"
"I saw it, Jab. I saw your world."
I had to see Brian right away. Jab had his own planet, and it was a place we had to go see.
The raptor stood catty-corner to the house, with one stub wing close to the house's front door. Jab was perched on top of the ship, just above the main engine nacelle. Behind the craft was an array of materials, all laid out on the lawn. I stood with a pad, looking at the list of things I figured to need.
"Bring house?" asked Jab.
"Very funny, fuzzball. No, I think that these things will do just fine."
I started to tell the cat to let me make that decision, but I stopped. My cat had already demonstrated to me that he wasn't the average pet that most took him for.
"Why not, Jab?"
"Can go fast"
"Yes, the ship is very fast. What does that have to do with it?"
"Can go faster"
"Sure it can. All it needs is a whole new design, new engine, and a new set of physics to employ."
Jab looked disgusted. "Have what need."
"Just what are you talking about?"
"Jab look engine. Bad make"
"Bad make? You mean it was made badly?"
"Can make better"
I sat down on the stub and looked at the Meenzal. I was aware that Jab was part of a space-going civilization, but that didn't tell me a lot about Jab in particular. "How could you make it better?"
"Explain is hard"
"Well, give it a try."
Jab considered this, and then moved over to the nacelle release. Like the hatchway into the craft, there was a pressure point which allowed access to the engine. He palmed --make that pawed-- the emblem and the engine was suddenly visible. He pointed a paw towards the reaction chamber. "No need. Singularity give own power."
I started laughing. "Yeah, right. Look cat, that's an artificial black hole in there. It generates power by the pull it exerts on reaction mass which is fed through the chamber there. If we remove the chamber, then we have nothing to let the hole pull on."
"Engine face backwards" he said, ignoring me.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Hole pull photon ahead. No need mass. Need space"
"I think you're out of your fuzzy mind."
Jab shook his head, stood his tail straight up and walked toward the bow of the ship. Hopping off, he turned and studied the ship from the front. It was funny to see him. He'd cock his head from side to side, shutting one eye or the other as he sighted down the side of the ship. He licked a foreleg and washed his face for a second, then hopped back up on the raptor. "Jab can fix" he said simply.
"No, Jab no fix. Jab will leave the damn thing alone."
* * *
It was about two am when a loud noise woke me. I sat up in bed and looked around. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but then, it was dark. I laid back down and closed my eyes. As soon as I had, I heard a clank come from the back yard. This time I vaulted out of bed and went to the window. The raptor sat back there uncloaked. Since I only left it visible when I was loading it, I knew that something was amiss. It took me about 20 seconds to throw on a pair of pants and get out back.
My Meenzal was in the engine compartment.
I jumped and turned to see Ficus standing beside me. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Jab asked me to help" he answered.
Ficus didn't answer, but leaned over the back end of the raptor and grabbed the reaction chamber with both hands. "You lift" said Jab.
Ficus did, and the chamber came out and was laid in the grass.
"What the fuck are you doing?" I yelled.
"Quiet, Dad. You're going to put the neighbors on us."
I looked side to side and realized he was right. "Ok," I said quietly. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Fix ship go fast" said Jab.
"Yeah? I'm going to kill you."
Jab hissed at me, and I went back to the house. A moment later I was back in the yard, pointing a shotgun at the cat. Jab looked at me, and then the gun. He looked bored.
"Bob no shoot Nahn. Bob love Jab" and then he buried himself back in the engine compartment. A second later, another part came loose and Jab was calling Ficus to lift it out.
The shotgun was dropped, and I stood there trying to figure out what to do. Yes, I loved the cat, but I also had a lot of fondness for the raptor, and the trips it could take me on. Right about now, all the raptor was, was a pile of slag sitting in my back yard. Pretty slag, but slag none the less. Hoping that Brian could help get it put back together, I walked slowly back to the house.
Once inside, I stopped at the computer on my way to bed.
"Right here, Bob."
"Throw some kind of hologram or tent or something over my backyard."
"The raptor is parked back there."
"Turn on the cloak."
"My cat turned off the power."
"I can turn it back on."
"Uh, no. I don't think you can."
"Of course I can."
"No, the cat removed most of the powerplant."
"It did what?"
I coughed. "Look. I don't want to go into it. I feel lousy and want to get to bed. Just throw up something to keep prying eyes away, ok?"
"I guess something happened. I can't raise it. Ok, I'll send a remote right away."
"Thanks, Penny. Talk to you later." I shut off the light and headed back to bed. I wasn't a happy camper.
"Ok, swing it a little to the left. That's it, drop it about an inch." I was lying on the floor, eyeballing the powerplant as it settled into its new home in the bowels of the Sunbeam. I swung my head from side to side to check the alignment of the mounting bolts. "Ok, looks good. Drop it another inch."
The new powerplant for the Sunbeam dropped the last few inches and the temporary mounting bolts popped up through the base plate. "Ok, that's got it." The construction bots' that had been using their overlapping antigrav fields to move the plant, now scattered to bolt the plant in place until it could be permanently mounted. "How long to get it up and running?"
"Give me an hour or so and you'll have partial power. It will be a day or so before I'm ready to have you sing the final mounting into place."
I picked myself up from the floor and brushed the dust from my jumpsuit. "Sounds good, I'll go make sure the old plant is settled in its new home." As I turned to leave the room, I spotted Bob in the doorway.
"How long have you been standing there?"
"Just a few minutes, you got time to talk?"
"Yeah, what's up?" I started to head towards the door when I spotted Jab sitting behind Bob in the doorway. He didn't look any happier to see me, then I was to see him.
"Bad Mage," and I spotted him starting to increase his size.
Clenching my fist, I focused the energy from my surroundings and got ready to release it. Bob wasn't watching Jab, but when my fist started to glow and arc small lightning bolts to the floor, he turned and swatted Jab.
"I said, no eating friends!" He turned to me and looked at the energy that was being held in check. "And you knock it off also! Jesus, you two go at it like a couple of little kids."
I pointed at Jab with my other hand. "He started it. Unless he wants to become the first fried cat in the moon, tell him to knock off the size changes." It took another swat, but Jab returned to normal size and I let the energy I'd been controlling dissipate. We still looked at each other with mayhem in our minds, but managed to get out of the ship without trying to kill each other. I headed over to the rebuilt power room for the lab with the two of them following.
"Say, isn't that the old plant?"
"Yeah, Penny needed something to replace the plant I vaporized. This one was available since we had to upgrade the one in the Sunbeam."
"Why the upgrade. That one you were jockeying into place must be three times the size of the old one. You planning on trying to land on a Neutron Star or something?"
"Not quite, but we're going to need a good portion of that things capacity if we ever plan on leaving the system. Penny has been running some more tests on various sized remotes equipped with hyperspace shields. The power requirements go up geometrically with the mass of the object being shielded and the relative velocity goes down." I pointed to the original powerplant that I had unshipped from the Sunbeam to power the lab. "Even at full output, that would not have shielded the Sunbeam during transit. That, and I wanted to upgrade the shields and weapons systems capacity." I exited the power room and as soon as Bob was clear, sealed the vault door.
Bob had a puzzled look on his face. "Any good reason? I don't think we have much to worry about from Earthside. They seem to be behaving themselves now."
I motioned Bob to stay quiet for a second. "Penny, you clear here for a few minutes?"
"Yes, why don't you show him."
I motioned for Bob to follow me, and then remembered Jab was still following us around. "Uh, I need to show you something in the other lab, but Jab isn't exactly welcome there. Can you get him to stay put here for a few minutes?" Bob didn't get a chance to answer.
"Jab stay. Stupid dragon."
I just looked at him for a moment. "I expect the feeling is mutual." Jab looked totally disinterested in arguing the point and wondered off to snoop around the lunar lab. With Bob in tow, I stepped through the gate and fired up the wall monitor. After a few seconds of scanning through the files, an image appeared on the screen.
Bob looked at it for a moment. "The first FTL probe, right?"
"Yep, that's one of the last video frames taken before it impacted the local star."
"So what has that got to do with the systems upgrades?"
I started playing with the image enhancement and zoomed in on the lower left corner of the image. As the image began to grow, a small black dot became visible and then resolved into a small metallic object. I was still playing with the software when I heard Bob give a low whistle behind me.
"What the hell is that?"
I looked up at the final form of the image on the screen. Under maximum magnification and the best image enhancement Penny had been capable of, the final form of the object resolved into a wheel shaped structure. To me, it looked a lot like the classical design of a space station. The old wagon wheel form with the outer ring connected to the inner core by spokes. Only in this case, a couple of the spokes were missing and part of the ring was damaged. "Your guess is as good as mine. I know what it looks like, but lord only knows what whoever built it had in mind. At the distance we found it, I'd say it was some kind of solar observatory."
We both stood there and stared at the image on the screen for a couple of minutes. Then something finally clicked for Bob. "Whoever?"
"Well I'm not going to call them a 'what'. I quit using that kind of terminology when I met Kalindra. It's 'who' as far as I'm concerned, but when to pay our first visit I plan on being prepared."
"Visit?" Bob though about it for a moment. "You planning on a follow up flight?"
Penny piped up at that point. "He is if I can ever get him to finish the work on the FTL flight systems. He's been spending quite a bit of time playing around with his sketching lately, and we've fallen a bit behind."
I stuck my tongue out at the monitor. "Phhhhhttttt..... Don't listen to her. Give me a couple of weeks to finish the installation stuff and we'll be about ready for the maiden FTL flight of the Sunbeam."
"Ok, I'll pencil it in on the calendar."
"You do that," and I snickered. I'd seen Bob's calendar and some of the events listed were more than a little bizarre. The stuff we had been involved in the last few months had not helped things any. "Anyway, do you still want to bring the Raptor along? We're going to have to change the landing bay design to account for its size now."
"Yeah I do, and that also brings up the point for my visit. Would you be interested in another flight when you get the Sunbeam back on-line?"
"Maybe, what did you have in mind?"
"Well.... Jab wants to go home."
"Ok, I'll open the gate and we can toss him through." That got me yet another dirty look.
"No, I mean he wants to go HOME. To his own planet, not back to Velar."
"And just how are we suppose to get him there? The Velan's have been trying for several thousand years to figure him and his friends out. Even with the Sunbeam to travel in, just where are we suppose to take him?"
"I'm not sure yet, he hasn't talked about that much. He has however been asking about how the Raptor works. He thinks he can make it go faster and he wanted to use it to go home. That's why I'm here talking to you."
"You've got to be kidding me, right? What is he, a FTL engineer in his spare time?"
"I'm not sure. That techno crap you and Penny spout when you're talking is a little over my head. What I do know is that he was poking around the powerplant in the Raptor and it sure sounded like he knew what the hell he was talking about."
I stood up and headed for the gate to the lunar lab. "Come on, this I've got to hear. Penny, you might want to follow along with this. It should be good for a chuckle or two."
"Right behind you."
Bob and I stepped through the gate and found one of Penny's remotes waiting for us. "Ok, where is the little furball." I looked around and didn't see him. "Hey fuzzface! Where are you hiding now?"
"Mage no yell at Jab. Jab back here."
His voice had come from the rear of the Sunbeam, so we walked back to see what he was doing. With my luck, he was looking for someplace to use as a litter box. When I rounded the end of the ship, I spotted him perched up in the rear engine bay playing with one of the emitter arrays for the main drive. "Hey, get the hell away from that you little monster!"
Jab jumped down and landed on the floor at Bob's feet. "Stupid Mage, build slow ship."
"Like hell it's slow. This thing will hit .9C and probably a bit more now."
"No go faster than light."
"Not using that drive, no. That's what the next set of modifications are for. I've only just discovered how to shield matter from the effects of hyperspace." Then it dawned on me, just who I was arguing with. "Hey, what the hell is going on here?"
Bob chimed in. "That's what I was talking about. He keeps talking about making changes to the Raptor, and I'll be damned if he doesn't sound like he knows what he's talking about."
"Jab know. Mage doing hard way, is easier way. I show."
I looked at Jab and remembered what I had read in the book I'd given to Bob. Then I looked at Bob and shrugged my shoulders. "He's your friend. Do you trust him?"
"Don't ask me, I've got no idea what he's talking about."
I thought about it for awhile. "Well, I suppose I could come over and listen to what he has to say. I still think he's sucked one to many rotten egg's, but it should be good for a laugh or two. How about I drop by in a couple of days?"
"Sounds good to me. You can pick up that batch of cookies that Karen has been baking for you."
"Ok, I'll call you in a day or two and set something up. There isn't any real hurry as far as I can see. I'm going to be busy here with the Sunbeam for the next couple of weeks getting the FTL shields installed. Then we can hunt for furface's home if he's still interested." I looked around to see Jab's reaction and caught him just as he was looking at one of the landing skids of the Sunbeam. He was just starting to lift a leg when I clenched me fist and let the lightning flash. "Don't even think about it you animated pile of fur!"
"Stupid, slow Mage. Jab want go home!"
I was just starting to approach Jab when Bob ran by me and scooped him up. "Come on Jab. I think it's time to leave." With Jab under his arm, Bob ran through the gate to Earth and ducked through the secondary gate to the warehouse that Penny uses for deliveries and pickups.
"Huh?" I looked around and realized that the Raptor wasn't visible in the lab anywhere. "Hey Penny, how did Bob get up here?"
"He asked where the Earthside gate was and drove over to the warehouse."
"Why didn't he just fly up in the Raptor?"
"Well, let's just say that it's not flyable at the moment. I think any more of an explanation better wait for you to talk to Bob."
I stared at the gate to the main lab and hoped that Smaug hadn't caught sight of Jab as Bob had ran through the lab. The egg's that he and his mate had been guarding looked almost ready to hatch and it would have been a real blood bath if they had spotted each other. Grabbing my worklist, I started back to puttering around the lab and wondering why the Raptor was off-line. "I'll bet it has something to do with that damned cat...."
"You let a damn CAT take it apart? I just knew it" said Brian.
"I wouldn't say that I let..."
"This really pisses me off."
"Shut up, Brian. Just shut up."
"I'm trying to tell you something."
Brian's breath was coming in short huffs. "What are you trying to tell me? The same thing that furball was?"
"I'm trying to tell you that Jab said the engine was inefficient and that he could --and was-- trying to fix it." My head was throbbing.
"Inefficient? My engines are inefficient? Maybe that fish eating, egg sucking clawfoot hasn't read the reports we drew on the Sunbeam -- Or better yet, the probe. I've helped you out with two ships and both of them have done just fine."
"That has nothing to do with it. Sure the Sunbeam is fast, but the raptor is a whole different technology."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Listen Brian. I'm here to ask you to help me in case what Jab is doing won't work. At least get it back to what it was. We still have all of the parts. But we have to remember what he is, and where he came from."
"We don't know for certain where he comes from, Bob. All we have is the images he gave you. Besides, you're the one who came up with that drive."
"Think about that a minute, Brian."
"Hmmmm. I suppose that's true. Finding out that the Meenzal were crew and not cargo puts this all in a different light. Penny?"
"What's the condition of the raptor?"
"Everything's off line. I can't get any readings from it at all."
"That's just great. Send a remote over there and let me know what's happening."
"On the way."
Brian looked at me. "What's wrong with you?"
"I didn't have a chance to stop him. He started this while I was asleep."
"That's not what I meant. All the color is gone from your face, and you're coughing more than usual."
"I dunno. Maybe I'm getting the flu or something."
"I hope not."
"Yeah, me too."
"The remote is in place, you have a video and audio feed from the yard."
We looked at the wall monitor. It showed a picture of the back yard with the raptor. In the upper left-hand corner was a close-up of the engine compartment. We could see that Jab had the main powerplant turned around, and was doing something with the emitter array.
"Oh no" said Brian.
"What's he done?"
"He's got something there that will very likely rip itself apart when any power gets applied. We have to stop him or there won't be a raptor to fix."
"Tell me something Brian."
"How come I don't understand what he's doing?"
"Because he's a cat. Who knows what a cat thinks like? But, let's go see what he's doing anyway."
Brian formed an image of the yard in his mind, put a hand on my shoulder and teleported.
"Jab! Stop what you're doing" I called to the cat. He looked at me."
"Because," said Brian, "if you keep up with your plan, you're going to destroy the ship."
Jab ignored him. Looking at me
"Why Jab stop?"
"Look Jab, you're making a mistake. I don't know what you think we have here, or how you think it works. But if you do what you seem to be planning, then the ship will rip itself to bits when you fire it up."
The Meenzal now looked at Brian. His eyes were narrow and cold, and there was no doubt that he was angry. "You lie at Bob." It was an accusation.
"I didn't lie to him. Look here." Brian walked to the raptor and pointed. "This is an emitter array. You have it pointed towards the source. Now, the power source has it's intake reversed and pointed towards the array. These two things are going to push against each other, and the whole mess is going to pull itself apart."
Jab looked at the engine, obviously confused. He closed his eyes, and I saw Brian look towards him. It was obvious that Jab had abandoned language and was communicating telepathically.
*You not understand own machines*
*Look how emitter does shape intake to singularity. Draw photon from ambient or source made. Control pull of artificial event horizon. Faucet for make it go*
Whatever Jab said, Brian took it seriously. He stepped to the raptor and looked very closely at the new arrangement.
"You mean that you're using the emitter as a source for the artificial event? That's like using a fan on a sailboat to make it go."
"No. Emitter control pass of photon. Not emit"
Brian looked dumfounded. "You mean to say that instead of using the artificial event to power the emitter, you're using the emitter to control the pull of the event?"
"What are you guys talking about, Brian?" I asked.
"He's using the power generated by the event to reinforce the shields on the emitter, and that can control both the aperture to the artificial event, and the emitter itself. A simple feedback unit."
"Excuse me, I hate like hell to break in on you, but what are you talking about?" I said. I was getting a little peeved at being left out.
"I'm saying," replied Brian, "that your cat has a better understanding of your powerplant design than you do."
"It looks that way, doesn't it?"
"How did you come up with this design anyway? Your good with aerodynamics and laminar flows, but you've always been confused by drive units that don't use propellers."
"Up yours too, Brian."
"Don't get in a mood. There's something about all of this that just doesn't make any sense."
"Because Brian Penny make wrong" injected the Meenzal.
"Huh?" said Brian and I together.
"Jab show make drive-- Brian Penny no do right"
"What are you talking about, cat?" asked Brian.
"Jab show Bob make drive. Brian make power unit. No drive"
Brian paled visibly.
"What the hell is going on here?" I demanded.
"Just how did you think this up, Bob?"
"Well, I was standing on my toilet, hanging a clock. I slipped off and was knocked unconscious. When I woke up, I drew a picture of the flux capacitor." I snarled. I was getting really tired of not understanding any of this.
"Never mind the film quotes. How did you come up with this design?"
"It just seemed to make sense."
"Why? Why did it make sense?"
"I don't know. It just did."
"According to mangy here, it was his design. Haven't you been listening?"
"He's talking about the rework, not the original."
"Is Jab drive. Jab give mind on Bob"
"You know the old expression, 'are you thinking what I'm thinking?'" asked Brian.
"Well sure, but..."
"Your thinking is the cat's thinking."
I didn't like the sound of that at all. I coughed hard and realized that I was developing a fever. "Christ. What next?"
Brian answered his phone. "Brian? This is Karen."
"Hi there, Cookie Lady!"
"I need a favor."
"Bob just collapsed and the car won't start. He's burning up and needs to get to a doctor."
"I'll be right there" said Brian, and hung up. "Penny!"
"Keep up on the remotes. Bob's sick and I'm going to get him to the doctor."
"I'm on it. Tell him I hope he feels better."
"Will do." With that, Brian stepped through the gate into the Earthside lab and got his van. Ten minutes later, he swung into the driveway.
Bob was laid out on the couch, covered with blankets. His breath came in ragged, wet-sounding gurgles. "I think it's pneumonia" said Karen. "He woke me last night with his coughing, and he was soaking in sweat and shaking pretty badly."
"I saw him last night. He wasn't looking very good. He said he thought he was getting the flu." Brian reached out and pulled the blanket down. Waves of heat greeted him as soon as he did. "We need an ambulance."
Another ten minutes later, Bob was wrapped in ice filled thermal blankets and was riding to the hospital in the back of a Spokane Ambulance. The paramedics said they hadn't seen a fever that high before. Two blocks from the hospital, Bob stopped breathing. The paramedics had a tracheal tube in him by the time they had reached the hospital, and eleven minutes later, Dr. Ott, the physician on duty pronounced him dead of cardiac and pulmonary failure. The doctor said in his report that death was the result of complication of advanced bronchial pneumonia.
"It was fast," said the trauma nurse. "He didn't feel a thing." Somehow, this news wasn't much of a comfort to either Karen or Brian.
* * *
Jab sat expectantly on the front step of the house when Karen and Brian got back. "My Bob is where?" he asked.
Brian and Karen exchanged glances. Brian stooped down on one knee and looked the Meenzal. "Nahn," said Brian, "Bob passed away."
Tears filled Karen's eyes and she ran into the house. "Bob passed?" asked the Meenzal. "What passed?"
"Bob is dead. He died at the hospital."
The cat swelled to enormous size. "You LIE, Mage. You lie Jab!" The cat advanced slowly. It was stalking. Brian stood and took a defensive posture. His hand made a fist and the air crackled with the energy building in it.
"Stay away from me, Jab" Brian said firmly.
"You lie Mage. You die now." Brian's hand raised and opened, and a bolt of energy flew at the Meenzal. It crackled about the body of the huge cat but had no effect. With charges of raw energy crawling across the cat's body, it advanced towards Brian. The roar it bellowed was strong enough that Brian's hair rippled from the wind.
Brian summoned a larger charge. "It's not a lie, Jab. Bob died. Everything that could be done was done." The cat took another step towards the Mage. Fangs glistened with saliva just inches away.
"Bob alive. Jab feel Bob. Jab in Bob mind. You lie. You die." Another roar emitted from behind the needle-like teeth.
Brian teleported. One moment he was in front of the cat, the next he was twenty feet away. "It's not a lie, Jab. It's the truth." A half second later, the cat had closed the distance, and a steamer trunk sized paw hit Brian with enough force to cast him thirty feet across the yard. Brian closed his eyes and directed another energy bolt at the cat. This one had ten times the force of the first, but it too dissipated across the Meenzal as the first one had. Brian scrambled to his feet.
"Stop Jab! Stop now. Why would I lie to you about this? What reason would I have?"
"Stupid Mage pick on Jab. Let dragon snack scare Jab. Mage no like Jab. Do mean to Jab."
"They were jokes, Jab. No harm was meant. Jokes. Didn't Bob explain jokes?"
The cat eyed him suspiciously. "Bob make joke on Jab?" The question was unexpected.
"Bob tell Mage lie to Jab?"
"No. This isn't a joke, Jab."
"Then why you lie Jab?" The cat crouched, and Brian knew it would strike again in seconds.
"I'm not lying, Jab. This is not a joke."
"Then why Jab feel alive Bob?" questioned the Meenzal. It took a moment, then Brian understood.
"You're in touch with Bob now?"
"Jab always touch Bob. Touch until cannot"
"You're telling me that he isn't dead? We saw him, cat. Karen and I both saw him. The doctor saw him. He died."
The Meenzal looked closely at Brian, and the Mage could feel the cat in his mind. He allowed it. The Mage could have blocked the cat, he'd done it before. But the cat had to know that Brian believed what he was saying. "What happen Bob now?"
"Bob will have a ceremony."
"We will say good-bye to our good friend, and then he'll be cremated."
The cat was repulsed, and pulled backwards. "You turn Bob into milk?"
"No, not cream, cremated. Bob was very open about wanting to be cremated when he died."
"He'll be burned, Jab." The cat screamed and lept. Before Brian could do anything, the cat pinned him with both forepaws to the ground.
"No burn Bob" said the cat in a guttural snarl.
"But he's dead you stupid cat. He's dead. Don't you get it?" Caution was to the wind. Brian had had enough of being a cat toy, and was getting angrier each second.
The cat stepped back and regarded him. "You stupid. Jab no stupid."
"Asshole!" yelled Brian. "How damn stupid can a cat be?"
"Not stupid. You stupid. No understand Velar Fever"
"Dumb Mage. Go away. Jab fix" and with that, the Meenzal strode off towards the raptor. Brian followed close behind. His ribs and left arm ached from the cat's blow, but he kept up with the shrinking cat.
"What fever? What are you talking about?"
"Jab take Bob Nahn's other home. Fix with leaf"
Brian stood for a second, then teleported to the lunar lab. He arrived on the run, and passed through the gate to Velar. He had to find Kalindra. If the cat was right, he needed to act before the hospital morgue went to work.
The moment I was through the gate I began to call. It was the middle of the night on Velar, but I was yelling loud enough to wake the dead.
The moment I picked up her answer, I focused and teleported. "Kal... Oh shit!" I had to have been bright red, but there was so little light that I hoped she couldn't tell. In my haste to see her, I'd managed to teleport myself into her bedroom. I'd seen just enough to realize what I'd done and turned my back. Wearing something to bed seemed to be an oddity unique to humans. She had been curled up on her sleeping pad and just waking up as I arrived.
"Still embarrassed after all this time? You human's sure have some odd ideas."
"So I'm a little odd. I need to talk to you." I could hear her moving about behind me and waited for her to dress.
"Ok, now what's so important that you show up in my bedroom in the middle of the night? I've never managed to get you here any other time."
I turned, and thankfully found Kal dressed. She had demonstrated on more than one occasion that she thought a lot of me. I was still trying to figure out how I felt about her, and this wasn't the time to bring that particular subject up for discussion.
"What can you tell me about 'Velan Fever' and Meenzals?" Her reaction told me more than I wanted to know. I swear she turned pale as what I had said registered.
"No, Bob. He died, or at least I think he died, a short time ago. All I got from Jab was the phrase 'Velan Fever' and his statement that Bob wasn't really dead. Then he proceeded to use me as a toy." My ribs were still killing me and I was pretty sure a couple of them were fractured.
"How long ago?"
I pulled out my watch and checked. "About 1.7 Pel ago, why?"
"Then there is still time. We need to get him into bio-stasis while we gather the stuff to cure him."
"Cure him? You mean he's not dead?"
"Not yet, but we need to hurry." As she grabbed things from around the room I tried to stay out of the way. Unfortunately, I wasn't moving real fast at the moment and when she collided with me I whimpered in pain. "What is wrong?"
"I think that damned cat busted a couple of ribs."
"You attacked the Meenzal?"
"Tried to defend is closer, but nothing I tried did much of anything."
Kal nodded her head at my statement. "Yes, they are very resistant to direct attack via magic. You have to be a little more subtle when trying to reason with them."
"You know of something that will effect them?"
"Not so much effect them as render them harmless."
"This I've got to hear, you can tell me as we move..." A few seconds later, we were standing in front of the gate and then on our way to Bob's house.
* * *
"I hope this works, my ribs can't take much more."
"I can give you the time you need. I just hope that you are right."
"That makes two of us. It worked one way, but I've no idea if the reverse is possible." I sucked in a deep breath and let it out. With Kal's help I was breathing a little easier, but it still hurt like hell. "You ready?"
"Just keep me close to the ground if you don't mind."
I focused and sent Kal in ahead of my arrival. When she confirmed that she was in place, I picked my spot and teleported to Bob's back yard. I was a little high, but I'd have rather have been high than low. I was hovering about 30 feet off the ground above the Raptor. Below me, Jab was still digging around in the guts of the powerplant. Whatever he was doing, I hadn't been gone long enough for him to finish.
"Hey fuzzbutt, time to come up for air." I could see him react to my voice, but he continued to play with the insides of the Raptor.
"Mage go away or get swatted again. Jab has to help Bob."
"That's what I'm here to talk about. Now come out of there and talk to me."
"Jab got nothing to say to Stupid Mage. Brian want to cream Bob."
This wasn't going to get us anyplace. *Ok Kal, do it the hard way* I could feel the energy build up as her spell kicked in. Jab felt it also as his howl was heard all over the neighborhood. As I watched, Kalindra enveloped him in an energy field and levitated him out of the Raptor. To keep him off balance, she held him about 10 feet off the ground. It wasn't a direct attack, it was a general spell focused on an area that just happened to include the Meenzal. The moment Jab cleared the access port, he spotted Kal and howled even louder.
"Not fair! Jab have to help Bob!"
I didn't have a lot of sympathy for the little terror at the moment. "You want to help Bob, you talk to us. My friend told me a couple of interesting little facts about Meenzal's and you are going to listen to me whether you like it or not." I started to lower myself to the ground now that Jab was pretty much helpless. I also started to gather my internal charge so that I would not be just as helpless if what I planned worked.
"Stupid Mage, Jab finish the job this time."
"Yeah, well lets see." I started the spell I'd designed on the fly and hoped those weren't going to be famous last words. *Kal, release him*
The moment the confinement field vanished, Jab began to grow in size and charge me. At the same time a small nova sprang into existence on the farside of the moon as the energy I was transferring emerged. I was just starting to wince with the anticipation of Jab's charge when I felt the void spring into existence around me. It caught Jab completely by surprise and as he passed the barrier he returned to normal size and skidded to a stop at my feet. Before he had a chance to react, I reached down and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and held him aloft so he couldn't claw me.
"I think that makes us about even. You may be proof against almost anything I can throw at you, but it only works when you can tap the magic. Keep that in mind the next time you try to come after me." I used my internal store to invoke a small witchlight above my head. "I'm not quite as helpless as it might seem."
Jab kept squirming around trying to nail my arm, but I'd had more than enough practice with a cat of my own to avoid his claws. When he finally tired, I held him at arms length and stared him the eyes. "You ready to talk yet? We don't have a lot of time if we're going to save Bob." At last, I got his attention and he listened to what I was saying.
"You know Bob not dead?"
I nodded my head at Kalindra. "She explained about the 'Fever', or at least told me enough to understand what you had been saying. Now the problem is, how do we find Bob to help him. Are you willing to help us?"
Jab thought about it for a moment, then spoke. "Yes, Jab help Mage."
With that, I put him down on the ground. "Ok, then lets get moving. You have a link of some kind with Bob, right?"
"Yes, Jab feel Bob."
"Jab also cause the problem, but that's something we can discuss later. Right now, Kalindra and I need you to find his body so we can help him."
"Furry tell Mage how 'Velan Fever' is caused?"
"Yeah, she told me. If Bob survives this, he is going to have a few things to say to you and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it. First though, he has to survive. Now where is his body?"
While we had been talking, someone inside the house had heard the commotion and come to check it out. While Jab was trying to show us just where Bob was at the moment, Karen came running around the corner and almost ran over Kalindra. She came to a screaming halt and stared at us in shock.
"Is that the cookie lady?" And Kal pointed at Karen.
Crazy as it sounded, I had to chuckle. "Yeah, that's the cookie lady."
Kal turned to face Karen. "I hear that you know how to keep this guy interested," and she pointed over her shoulder at me. "I'd like your recipe for cookies." Karen's reaction startled all of us.
"Haven't you people done enough? Playing around with magic and machines, and this thing," and she pointed at Kalindra. "You've managed to kill Bob, what's next on the list."
Kalindra didn't know what to say, so she stayed silent. Jab and I spoke up at almost the same time. "Bob isn't dead."
"Huh? I saw him die in the ambulance!"
"Nope, you saw him collapse, but he's not dead. Not if we can get to him in time." I looked down at Jab. "You found him yet?"
"Bob found. We go?"
I reached out and took Kalindra's hand in mine, then looked at Karen. "This isn't over yet, give us a chance to correct our mistake," and I looked down at Jab.
"Jab sorry, will fix."
"Show me where he is," and I dropped my mental shields. In my mind, an image of a room appeared. It looked like a morgue of some kind and it might have taken us hours to find the right place without Jab's help. I looked up at Karen and winked. "Wish us luck," and the three of us vanished.
The lights were off when we appeared, so it took a couple of minutes while we stumbled around looking for the light switch. When the lights came on, Jab immediately raced for one of the locker doors. When he got close, he jumped up and took a chunk out of the handle with his claws.
"Quiet! Shit, that's all we need. Someone finding us screwing around in the holding room." I checked the door and found it locked. If anyone did show up, the noise of it being unlocked should alert us. Grabbing what was left of the handle, I opened the door to Bob's slab and pulled it out.
I was a little energetic I guess, and the slab was kind of slick. When the slab came to a stop, Bob kept right on sliding and flew right off the end of the slab and onto the floor. "Oh shit" I grabbed him, realized I was holding a corpse and dropped him again, then shuddered as I picked him up and placed him back on the slab. I turned and looked at Kal. "He didn't feel that, did he?"
"No, the trance is much to deep for him to register external events."
I looked at Bob laying on the slab and remembered the only other time I'd seen someone like this. When my grandmother had died, I'd arrived at the hospital after the rest of the family had already been told. The nurse that I talked to had asked me if I wanted to see her, and had assumed that I had also been told. I'd walked into the room thinking that she was still alive, and found her lying in front of me dead. It was something that I knew I'd never forget the rest of my life.
"Ok, lets get him into stasis. Jab, watch the door while we get this done."
"Jab watch," and he took up guard at the door.
Kalindra was already starting the spell and I got ready to back her up. We needed to keep Bob from dropping any further while we found the plant that the antidote was made from. It took the two of us the better part of 20 minutes to finish, but when the spell completed, Bob was surrounded by a faint blue glow to those who could detect it. That done, Kal collapsed backwards into my arms.
"That should hold him. You have two days to find and purify the antidote and administer it. After that, he will die for real."
"Two days it is then." I reached over and turned the tag that was tied to Bob's toe over so I could read it. "It says here to hold the body pending arrangements by the family. Karen will just have to delay until we finish," and as I though about it I knew how to create the delay needed. "Come on, let's get out of here." I slid the slab back into the wall and closed the door. "Jab, all clear?"
"Let's get moving then." When I had a clear picture of the living room of Bob's house in mind, the three of us vanished once again. When we appeared in the living room, it was in the middle of a small crowd of Bob's kids and Karen. Karen at least had seen Kal before and so didn't react quite the way the kids did. Jab ducked under the table, I stepped back against the wall, and Kalindra stood in the center of the room and became the center of attention. Ficus unfroze first.
"Cool! It's a mutant fox!"
That must not have gone over real well. Kalindra turned and grabbed him by his shirt. Velan's may be small, but they aren't weak by any means. With a single jerk, she lifted him off the floor and held him in the air above her. "Just who are you calling a mutant you hairless ape?" The rest of the kids had been about to join in the fun and now the entire lot froze. While Kalindra proceeded to teach Ficus some manners, Karen turned to look at me.
"No, he's still alive and we have two days to make sure he stays that way. What I need now is the help of you and the kids." What I got instead was Karen crying to herself on the couch. Jab poked his head out from under the table and jumped up on the couch beside her.
"Not cry, Jab sorry."
In between sniffles, Karen turned back and looked at me. "Why does he keep saying he's sorry?"
"Because he's the cause of Bob's problem. Ever since the two of them met, Jab's been building a bond with Bob. The problem is that Bob was not ready or even trained to detect and handle the bond as it formed. The result was the trance he fell into as his PSI abilities crumpled under the stress. It's been known to happen with other telepaths on Kalindra's home world and both she and Jab seem to know how to treat it."
"So what about Bob?"
"At the moment, he's safe under the protection of a spell that will keep him alive until we get stuff to straighten him out. We have about two days, and I want you and the kids to help."
"Jab help too! Jab know leaf will fix."
Karen reached over and scratched Jab on the top of the head. "What can the kids and I do?"
"Well, first I need to delay anyone playing with his body. They are waiting for you to notify them about what you want done. We can hold off that by keeping you out of communication for the next couple of days. The way to do that is to enlist you and the kids in the search for the plant that Jab and Kalindra need."
"Search, where and what kind?"
"Well, you see, that's the sticky point. The plant in question only grows in the mountains of Velar, or it would seem on Jab's home world someplace. Since Kal's people have a slight problem with heights," and I could see Kal wince at the thought of climbing around in the mountains, "I need you and the kids to help with the search."
"You mean travel to another world?"
"That's the idea, yes."
All of the kids came alive at the same time, while Karen sat there and stared at me. It didn't take long for her to come to a decision. She reached over and grabbed her jacket and yelled at the kids to do the same. "When do we leave?"
The next five minutes were a madhouse, but finally everyone calmed down and got ready to leave. With everyone holding hands, I focused and the entire crew reappeared, standing on the floor of the lunar construction lab. While Karen tried to keep the kids under control, I said good-bye to Kalindra and saw her back through the gate to Velar. When I stepped back into the lunar lab, the kids were having the time of their life in the reduced gravity. Penny had even gotten in on the act and was trying to keep the kids away from the more dangerous stuff. Karen was just standing there and staring at the Sunbeam as I stepped up behind her.
"Kind of pretty, isn't it."
She looked back over her shoulder. "You built this?"
"With a little help, yes. Now we need to round up the kids and get them onboard. Where we are headed, the Velan's never bothered to build public transportation. The Sunbeam is the quickest way to get us to the mountains."
"Jab fix Raptor, bring it?"
"You have it flying again?"
The Meenzal looked down at the floor as he answered me. "Not yet. Not have right parts to fix."
"Then we take the Sunbeam. Let's get the kids loaded."
We had a hell of a time getting everyone onboard until I showed them the zero-G loading tube that led to the flightdeck. Even then, Aron managed to bounce himself off of the stopping bar instead of using it to halt the normal way. I also had to lock down most of the control panels. I knew better than to temp fate by just telling the kids to keep their hands off. When we were ready, I sat down in the command chair and brought the ship to life.
"Zorac, systems check please."
"All systems nominal except for primary power. Current restrictions require no more than 35 percent maximum required output."
"That should be fine." I looked back over my shoulders at the kids and Karen. "You all strapped in back there?"
"Cool!", "Hey, what's this button do?", "Warp speed Mr. Scott!", "Ready when you are Brian."
I shook my head and chuckled to myself. Then I drew on the energy needed to open the gate and began to sing. The first note from my mouth shut the whole group behind me up. They all were staring at the wall on the far side of the lab that had begun to shimmer and I heard a quiet gasp as the fog cleared and the mountains surrounding my Velan home appeared. "If anyone has second thoughts," and I paused for effect, "it's about twenty minutes to late to do anything about it. Zorac, primary guidance at my command."
"Control's are yours, we are free to navigate."
"Penny, keep an eye on things. We'll be back as soon as we can."
"Just find that damned plant!"
And with that, the Sunbeam and her motley crew began their search.
The Sunbeam moved smoothly through the gate and began a gentle ascent to take the crew into the Velar mountains. It took 40 seconds for the newness of the situation to wear off on the kids.
"Brian, Megan is making faces at me" said Aron.
This brought a quiet "Ok" from Brian. Two seconds later, a loud >thwack< was heard and Megan began yelling at Ficus.
"That hurt! Brian, Ficus slapped me in the head!"
"She was blocking my view."
"Shut up, both of you, or I'll feed you to the cat" replied Brian with an edge to his voice.
"What cat?" asked Aron.
"Jab's not here. How can you feed us to the cat if he isn't here?" asked Megan.
"Yeah" said Ficus.
"Yeah" said Aron.
"Huh?" said Brian, looking around the control room. No, the cat wasn't there. "JAB!" Yelled Brian. "Get in here." There was no response. "Zorac, locate the Meenzal."
"There is no Meenzal aboard."
"There is no Meenzal aboard."
* * *
Jab made his way back through the lunar gate to the Earthside lab. It took him almost an hour to cover the distance between there and Bob's house. The trip was uneventful, except for the report which would be filed with Spok-Animal later about a missing Doberman pincher. The hapless canine was turned into a furball which would later return to the elements alongside Sprague Avenue. Brian's lab was going to need a new door. There was a rough-cut hole in it about a foot across.
When he arrived, the Meenzal set to work completing his modifications to the raptor.
* * *
"God Damn Cat!" bellowed Brian. "Penny?"
"Locate that cat."
"He left here a few minutes ago."
"You let him go?"
"I thought you did."
"Damn. Where did he go?"
"He went through the gate six minutes ago according to the logs."
"Find the fuzzball and do whatever it takes to get him here."
"You got it."
* * *
The remote swung in over the backyard and found the cat on its third pass. "Jab," called Penny, "Brian says I'm to get you to Velar right now."
"Bring parts" said the cat.
"No, you have to come right now."
"Jab not leave. Need raptor for leaf get"
"Brian says you have to go."
"What Mage say eggzacly?"
"He said to get you there no matter what it takes."
"Jab go when parts in raptor. That what takes for Jab go Velar." A snip of his claws, and some tubing fell onto the ground. The remote swung a circle around the raptor and disappeared.
* * *
Brian altered course with the Sunbeam, and headed to his friend's lab. He was going to need Kalindra after all, and knew she wouldn't be too hot on the idea. The kids noticed the turn immediately, and all of them started asking questions at once. Brian began to answer, thought better of it, and then cast a spell which froze the kids in time. His spell gave him about eight minutes to contact Kalindra, explain the problem, secure her cooperation and get underway again before the kids would animate again. Brian smiled to himself. "This parenting stuff isn't so hard." Then he noticed that Karen was glaring at him.
"What did you do to them?"
"Don't worry, they're fine. I just need to act quickly, and I can't have them distracting me. We have very little time." Karen didn't reply, but he could see she wasn't real sure of his method of childcare.
With the Sunbeam cloaked, Brian guided the silver craft near Kal's house and called to her. She materialized on the command deck a moment later. "I take it this girl isn't going to get her beauty sleep."
Brian explained the situation. "Yes," replied Kal, "That's the mark of a Meenzal. They're very single minded creatures."
"They're stupid, if that ball of crap is any gauge."
"Don't be too quick to judge them, Brian. I expect that Jab has a very good reason for doing whatever he's doing."
"Maybe. But now we have no one to show us where to find the plant we need to make the antidote."
Kal sighed. "Yes, you do. I can show you."
"You'll go with us then?" Kal shuddered at that.
"No, I cannot. But I can put the image of what you need in your minds, and tell you the places you're likely to find it."
"Then that will have to do." Kal closed her eyes for a second and then opened them again.
"What is wrong with the children? I can't reach them."
"Oops!" said Brian. "A little necessary restraint." He waved a hand and the kids immediately continued where they'd left off, stopping suddenly as they saw that Kalindra was back with them and the ship wasn't moving. Again Kal focused her thoughts on the plant, and each of the group knew immediately what it was they were looking for.
"Can you do that with algebra?" asked Ficus hopefully.
Kal smiled. "Knowledge without effort is soon forgotten, child." To Brian, "What a curious race you are." Kal explained that the name of the plant was the glebni bush, and that it grew only from rock. The species required almost no water, and in fact, too much would kill it easily. Thus it grew in the cliff faces of the mountains, well above the timber line.
"This is going to be easy" said Megan.
"Not so easy, child. The cliffs are a very dangerous place."
"We won't fall. I've climbed some really steep hills."
"It isn't just the rocks which hold danger." With that, Kal winked at Brian and vanished.
Brian guided the Sunbeam back towards the mountains again, and an hour later the group stood on a plateau high above the fertile lowlands of Velar.
"This is cool," said Ficus. The altitude allowed them a view which went so far into the distance that they could actually see the curvature of the planet if they looked carefully enough.
The tectonic forces at play when Velar was created so many millions of years ago had built a mountain range which was roughly shaped like the letter X. They stood on a point which was three quarters of the way up in one of the four crotches. Brian smiled as different members of his group made the same discoveries that he and Bob both had when they'd taken their first real look at Velar. The green hue to the sky, the differences in foliage, and the wondrous clarity of the air which the Earth had lost to industrialization. He allowed them a few moments to savor the sights, and then called them all to order.
The plan was for each of the two adults to take off on separate ridges, moving out a mile or so on one side, and then returning on the other. They'd meet back where they started in three hours to eat. If the search failed, they'd take the Sunbeam over the pinnacle and then make the same kind of search on the northern two ridges in the afternoon. Karen took Ficus and Brenna, and Brian took Aron and Megan.
In the three hours, both teams scrambled over rocks and crossed ledges in the rocks without incident, and without any luck in finding the plant they needed to revive Bob. When they met at the rendezvous, all were tired and hungry, and the kids were getting a little ill-tempered. When a fight broke out between Ficus and Megan, Brian found it wise to cast a healing spell on all of the party in order to restore strength and improve they way they were getting along.
Karen unpacked the food they'd brought, and was about to serve everyone when they noticed they weren't alone.
Standing atop a rock above them was what looked to be a lizard. It stood erect on powerful hind legs. Its skin was scaly, and colored black with blood red splotches. It wore some sort of metallic armor, and carried what was obviously a rifle-like weapon in it's clawed hands. The beast was at least seven feet tall.
"Stand very still" said Brian in almost a whisper. It was an unnecessary remark, each of the group was frozen in fear.
"What is it?" asked Karen.
"If I remember correctly, that's an Owessee."
"Are we in trouble?"
"I don't know. They have bad eyesight, and if we stay still, he may not see us."
"What if he does?"
"Then we're in trouble."
Some small rocks rolled down the hill behind them, and Brian could see that a few more of the Owessee were moving in from the rear. He looked to where the Sunbeam was parked, and saw that two more of the lizards had stationed themselves, one at each end of the ship.
Brenna was ten yards away and looking wide-eyed at an Owessee that was moving slowly towards her from behind some rocks. When its mouth opened and its forked tongue flicked in and out, she broke and ran for safety by her mother.
Almost at once, the Owessee atop the rock raised his weapon and fired. An energy plasma bolt jumped from the tip of the gun and streaked towards the little girl. Brian engaged his defensive shields and dove for Brenna in a single move. He arrived in front of her just before the bolt struck. It took him in the side hard.
Brian fell onto the ground, wrenching his shoulder badly. The pain swept through him like fire. Rolling back to a crouch, he extended his shields to protect Karen and the children, just as the rest of the Owessee opened up on the group. Blue-white bolts of energy crawled and snaked across the shield in all directions. More of the lizard-men appeared from behind, and joined in the fire.
"Can't you do something?" screamed Karen, running to her daughter.
"I'm using almost all of my energy just defending against the plasma rifles. Ficus! Bring the other kids and get close to me. The closer we are together, the stronger I can make the shield."
The group huddled together, but the fire from the Owessee was unrelenting. Even more of the lizards were coming out from behind rocks and outcroppings. "This isn't good," said Brian. He glared with hatred at the lizard who was standing atop the rock. He was obviously the leader, and this attack was well planned.
"How long can they keep this up?" asked Karen. It was hard to hear her. The air cracked and spit with energy discharges all around them.
"Not for long, I hope. I'm using all of my reserves to fend off the..."
The rock that the lead Owesee was standing on exploded, showering rock fragments in all directions. Explosions erupted all around them, vaporizing one after another of the attacking lizards. Above and to the right of where the group huddled, the raptor materialized, it's rail guns spitting in all directions. Thirty seconds later, the guns went quiet, and the raptor settled onto the ground atop the gravel its guns had created.
On the ridge above, three remaining Owessee raised their hands in submission and began to walk towards the parked ships. They were sullen and quiet. They were also followed by eight 20 foot tall Meenzals. The cats looked really pissed.
When the excess energy bled off from my shields, I could see the remaining Owessee being herded towards the clearing where the ships were parked. I started to turn to look back at the Raptor, and discovered that I'd not only messed up my shoulder, but had finish the job Jab had started on my ribs. With a gasp of pain, I let the shields drop and lowered myself to the ground and started looking around for my sunglasses. Karen noticed my search and a second later handed me the remains she had found on the ground nearby.
"Well that takes the cake." I looked up at the Raptor and found Jab sitting on the top of the hull and looking back at me. "Nahn, I hate to say it," and I tried to shield my eyes from the glare, "but I'm actually glad to see you."
"Brian needed help, Bob need Brian, Nahn help Brian."
I started to try to get to my feet. "Well you picked a great time to figure that out." I turned to where Nahn's friends were holding the last of the Owessee and felt my anger come rushing back. "Karen?"
"Would you load the kids into the ship. We'll be heading back to my home after I finish up here. We'll be safe there and we can get the kids some dinner before we set out again."
Karen looked from me to the Owessee and I think knew that I also wanted the kids to be out of the way for what was to come next. "Come on kids. Megan, help Brenna. You boys grab our stuff and get it loaded into the ship so we can leave."
I think Ficus knew what was going to happen. "Can't I stay and watch?" Both Karen and I answered at the same time. "No, get moving." It took a couple of minutes to gather the scattered remains of our gear and get the kids out of the way. The whole time, I just stood there and stared at the Owessee with murder in my eye. When the kids were gone, I turned to Nahn.
"Do you mind if I ask your prisoners a couple of questions?"
"Ask. We shall listen also," and the Meenzals behind them growled softly to themselves.
Having gotten permission, I stepped up to the largest of the three and stopped in front of him. I half hoped they didn't speak any Velan, so I would have no reason not to pry the answers I wanted straight from their minds by force. Civilization won out though.
"What tribe are you?"
I could see him stiffen as he registered the question, but he said nothing. I looked over at Nahn. "I'll be back in a second," and I teleported home. Ten seconds later, I reappeared with a bucket of water that I threw at the Owessee that had believed he didn't need to answer me. In seconds, he was writhing on the ground in agony as the water reacted with his skin like acid on metal. I stepped over in front of the second Owessee and asked again.
"What tribe are you?"
My question had pulled his eyes from his friend back to me. I held his gaze for a second and then glanced down at the bucket I still held in my hand. I was just starting to turn away when he spoke.
"Zamell. Why do you ask, eater of dirt?"
I looked him in the eyes and grinned. "Because I want to know what tribe will not be present to have its history remembered at the next great gathering." And I could see him pale at the thought.
"We will fight! Many of you will die and we will continue on as before. Nothing can destroy my tribe, not even you strange hairless freaks. I will use you and your tribe as slaves until I tire of you. Then I will have you fed to my enemies to choke them."
I looked over at the remains of the Owessee that had refused to answer. He had desolved into a small puddle of ooze with a few bone fragments sticking up into the air. "How old are you?"
I could see him wonder what my question was for and whether he needed to answer. "I am proud to be 15 years of age. Many of my enemies have I killed in battle."
Ok, he was old enough. "Does the name," and I rattled off the name Kalindra had stuck me with after I had helped save her world, "mean anything to you?" Apparently the legend of all those years ago had made it this far. I hated the damned name, it translated roughly as 'Brian Starfire', but this was one time I hoped it scared the shit of someone.
"He is a legend, a thing to scare small children with."
I reached out and grabbed him by the arm. "It works pretty good on stupid Owessee also." I could see the realization hit him about the same time he vanished. I'd teleported him straight up about a mile and off to the side. As I stepped over to stand in front of the last one, I could hear the screams of the second as he came rushing up to meet the ground behind me. The gore spattered all over the place as he hit and died.
The last Owessee was trembling slightly as he stood in front of me and his normal black coloration had faded to a pale gray. "You will go back to your tribe to tell them of what you have seen. You will tell them to watch the sky and be afraid. You have made an enemy that does not care about your tribe's history and will not leave behind anyone that might remember it. I might not come today, or even tomorrow. But one day I will arrive and take my revenge upon those mud suckers that dare to attack me or my friends." That said, I turned and walked away. When I turned back a few seconds later, I could just see him as he topped a hill in the distance.
Nahn had sat on the top of the Raptor and watched the whole show. "I'm sorry, I seem to have damaged a couple of your prisoners." I could see him tilt his head and then he and his friends talked amongst themselves for a few seconds.
"You truly are," and Nahn made a good attempt at pronouncing my Velan name.
"That is the name given me by my friends, yes."
"Then it is good we share our friends."
"At least one of them, yes. And if we wish to save him, I need to get Karen and the kids back to my home and do something about these ribs." The Meenzals talked together for another minute or two before Nahn turned back to face me.
"We will follow and help."
I looked up at the Raptor where it rested on the rubble. "You're not going home? I assume that you finished your changes to Bob's ship."
"Changes done yes, but Bob still need Jab's help." I swear I saw Jab show embarrassment. "Also, we not sure where home is. Would ask Bob and," there was that damned name again," to help us go home."
"Look. I'll make you a deal. You quit using that stupid name, and I'll help you get home as soon as we help Bob. Deal?"
"Is deal." Nahn looked at my kind of funny for a second. "Maybe Mage not as stupid as Nahn thought. Maybe only name is stupid."
"I'll agree with you about that if nothing else." I turned and headed for the Sunbeam. "I'll meet you at my home."
As I floated up the grav tube to the flightdeck, I could see the other Meenzals shrink to about normal size and pile into the Raptor. When I was as comfortable as could be hoped for, I lifted the ship and headed for home.
The Sunbeam settled into its hovering spot above the courtyard and the Raptor that held Nahn and his friends landed out in front. It took a couple of tries to convince the kids that the grav tube would lower them to the courtyard instead of dropping them, but Karen and I finally got the lot of them unloaded. After sealing a couple of the more dangerous areas and the top floor where the lab and library was, I turned them loose in the house while the adults fixed dinner and talked about what to do next.
Nahn and I were all for heading to one of the other mountain ranges on the other side of the planet. It was getting dark outside and we didn't want to waste the time. Karen wasn't sure wether the kids were up to going with us, and she was pretty worried about Megan. Ever since the attack, Megan had been acting a little strange and avoiding both of us.
"It's obvious she's upset about something, but she won't tell me what it is."
"Well, even though the kids were inside the ship, she may have picked up some of the distress from my dealing with the Owessee. I wasn't taking any great care to shield what was going on."
"Brian make mess" was all Nahn had to say. "Still cleaning fur!"
"I kept the kids away from the windows, how could she know?"
Oh oh. "Tell me. Has Bob ever talked to you about some of the things he and Megan were taught?"
Oh great, here's another one I owed Bob. "He never told you that Megan was empathic?"
"Your kidding right?"
"Fraid' not, it's one of her better skills. She probably picked up the outburst from the Owessee as I questioned them. That had to have been kind of overwhelming. I'd keep that in mind and go try to talk to her again. Nahn and I can finish up here."
Karen turned and headed out of the kitchen. "The grav tube is in the rear, right?"
"Yeah, Megan was up on the second floor deck the last I saw of her."
Nahn and I had just finished fixing the dinner, and getting the table set, when I heard a scream. "Oh shit, now what..." and the two of us raced out into the central area. When I cleared the doorway from the kitchen, I almost ran over Karen.
"Whatttt is thatttt?" And she pointed at one of the windows near the front door.
I took me a second to figure out what she was pointing at, then I started to chuckle. "I think the neighbors have stopped by to visit." What Karen was pointing at was the bottom half of the dragon that was visible through the window. Levitating up to the second floor, I spotted the kids standing in the archway that led to the deck, Karen and Nahn arrived a few seconds later via the grav tube. For once the kids were mostly quiet as they exchanged stares with the dragon that had landed in the front yard.
"Wow!", "You should have seen it land...", "It smells funny!"
Karen almost had a fit as she arrived in the archway. Only three of the kids were standing there, Megan was standing right beside the head of the dragon and looking into an eye that was almost as large as she was. "Megan, get away from that thing," she hissed. Megan didn't even seem to hear her.
"Give her a minute, I very much doubt she is any danger. I think the dragon is more curious than anything else, and I've never known them to hurt anything. Make one hell of a mess, but never attack."
"I don't care, that thing could swallow her whole and never notice it!"
Megan looked backwards as Karen's voice started getting louder. "Take a pill! She isn't going to hurt me, she was wondering who was feeling so sad and came to cheer me up."
Karen stood there and sputtered while I tried to keep the rest of the kids from rushing forward. With a firm shove and at least one kick in the pants, I got everyone except Nahn and Megan down to the kitchen to eat dinner. When I checked my watch, we were down to 37 hours left and not a single plant had been found. We had to get moving, and soon.
When the dragon launched into the air about halfway through dinner, I pulled the extra plate I had set aside from the warmer and waited for Megan to join us. When another 15 minutes when by without her showing up, Karen went to get her.
"Megan, come get your dinner. We need to get moving." No answer. "Megan?" At that point, I put down my silverware and went to find out what was up.
"Hey Nahn, are you and Megan still up there?"
"Nahn here, Megan flying."
Flying? "What do you mean flying?"
"Megan flying with friend."
I looked and Karen and she stared back in shock. "Flying? What the hell?" I took the fast way and Karen ran for the grav tube. When I ran out onto the porch, Nahn was looking at something above us in the sky. I had just about enough time to mutter an 'oh shit' before Karen joined us and started screaming. Megan was sitting on the back of the dragon and having the time of her life in the sky above us. During one dive towards the ground I could hear her yelling as the dragon pulled out of the dive and shot by my mountain top at well over a hundred miles per hour.
I was just getting ready to call to her when Karen decided this had to be my fault.
"Get her down from there!" and she aimed a kick at my shins and another at Nahn just for good measure. "Damn you, she is going to get killed!"
I started dodging and trying to keep from stepping on Nahn who was trying to duck through the archway. "And just what the hell am I supposed to do about it?" We were still yelling at each other when we were hit by the over pressure of the dragons' wings snapping open for a landing behind us. With Karen distracted, I followed Nahn through the archway and figured that mother and daughter would work things out between them. When I reached the kitchen, the kids all started in at once.
"Was Megan really riding the dragon?", "Karen sounds really pissed!", "Can I ride?", "How do I get a dragon?", "Can you teach it to eat people you don't like?"
"SHUT UP! Sit down, finish your dinner, or I'll feed you to the dragon myself!" I glared at them and after a few grumbles then obeyed. "We are running on a clock, and we need to get moving." A few more grumbles and at least one flip of some food across the table, the kids settled down and finished eating. Thank god, because when Karen and Megan walked through the door, the place became a madhouse again. Nahn and I had had more than enough. I got up and left with him beating me out of the room. "Karen, I'm going to go get the ship ready. When you get this mob ready, drag them out and we'll get moving again. The whip is on the top shelf if they give you any trouble." She just snickered.
"You're going to make a great parent someday."
"Only if they don't convict me of mass murder first." With that, Nahn and I headed for the ships to figure out where to search next. He and his friends would join us in the search. I checked my watch and saw that we now only had 36 hours left.
"We have time?"
"Yes, we still have time. But I'm not sure that Bob didn't get the better end of this deal."
"Kids pain, yes?"
"Kids pain, yes!"
With the kids loaded back onboard, we were once again on our way. This time to a mountain range about a third of the way around the planet that was just seeing the sunrise. I'm not sure wether it was my cooking, the fact that they had been up like twenty hours at this point, or the quiet ride, but the little monsters actually behaved themselves for the entire trip. Of course most of it was spent quizzing Megan about what it was like to ride a dragon. Bob was either going to need a hell of a lot bigger garage, or I was going to have to create a gate in the back of it so Megan and her new friend could see each other.
I'd just finished entering a note to myself in the computer to that fact, and a large footnote to make sure the damned gate would only work for either Megan or Bob, when the mountains we were headed for appeared on the horizon. A quick check out the window showed the Raptor hanging about two feet off our right wing. Whoever was piloting that thing sure had learned the controls quickly.
*You guys have any where in particular you want to set down?*
*Many cliff's would be better*
*One scan for cliff's coming up.*
I called up the map Kal had given us and located a likely looking spot. *Follow me* "Karen, we'll be landing in about five minutes. Can you get the kids ready?"
"Those that are still awake. I think Brenna went to sleep a little while back."
"Hummm... There are a couple of spare cabins along the hallway back there. You can put her to bed while the rest of us are out."
"Will she be safe here?"
"There aren't any Owessee around, if that's what you mean. I can have Zorac leave the shields up and the hatch locked. Nothing will get inside this ship without leveling a good portion of this mountain range."
"Ok," and she got up and lifted Brenna to carry her off to bed.
"The rest of you kids still up for another few hours searching?" They weren't enthusiastic, but they were still game. With a final check, I set the Sunbeam down in a narrow valley and gave Zorac his orders. With the ship sealed, we once again split into two teams, or three if you counted the Meenzai. Two of them would be coming with each human team, and the other four were heading out on their own. I'd showed them what the Velan equivalent to the their plant was, so we all knew what to look for.
A check of my watch showed we were down to about 34 hours left. "Ok, how about we meet back here in about three hours? That suit everyone?" Nobody grumbled to loud, so the three teams separated and we once again started our search.
Aron, Megan and I had been searching for about two hours and were starting to think about heading back when Aron spotted something growing from the underside of a rock overhang.
"Hey, is that it?" And he pointed about 150 feet up the side of a vertical cliff face.
I shielded my eyes and tried to spot whatever it was he was pointing at. "Little shit's got good eyes. Hey, Nahn. You want to take a look? I can't see enough detail to tell from here."
"Nahn look," and the Meenzal walked over the cliff and calmly began walking right up the cliff.
It took him a couple of minutes of climbing, but eventually he crawled under the overhang and yelled down to us. "Is good, I bring down!" Grabbing the stalk in his mouth, he reached out with one claw and snipped the plant off at the base.
I almost started laughing as Nahn came back down. Those claws of his might be real good at holding him to the rock, but he still had the same trouble any cat would have had going in reverse. It took him more than three times as long to back down the cliff as it had taken to run up it. When he reached the bottom, he turned and spit the plant out on the ground beside me.
I reached down, and after picking it up, started counting leaves. "Hummm, looks like we are going to need about three more to get the amount we need. Let's hope the other teams got lucky."
It took us almost the full hour to get back to the landing site. Along the way we spotted several more likely plants, but all had turned out to be the wrong stuff. When we joined up with the other teams, we found that the Meenzai team had also located one of the plants. "Great! That's at least half of what we need. How is everyone doing?" The Meenzai were still going strong, but the kids were about dead to the world. That and Ficus had bounced himself around pretty good when he has slipped climbing on some loose rock. "Ok, the kids go off to bed and I'll see what I can do for Ficus. How you holding out Karen?"
"Got any coffee on that tub?"
"Not a drop, but there is some tea and pop in the galley. That should give you your caffeine fix."
"Lead the way."
After get the kids put to bed and Ficus cleaned up. Karen and I sat down with Nahn and looked over the map. "Ok, cliff's worked out better then the last place. It looks like this might be a good spot to try next," and I pointed at the map.
"Look good to Nahn."
"Karen?" She just mumbled through her cup of tea at me. "Ok, then lets get moving." I leaned back in my chair and stretched. "I think one more jaunt and I'm going to need some sleep also." I checked my watch one more time. "We've got about 31 hours left. How about another three hours search and then catching about six hours sleep." Nobody complained, so I buttoned up the ship and we headed to the next site.
This one was a total bust. Not only did we not find anything, but one of the Meenzal's got hurt by a rock slide. By the time we returned to the ship's, we were tired, sore and hungry, but nobody even suggested fixing anything to eat. With a mumbled 'good nite', Karen joined the kids and I made it to my own cabin before falling asleep.
We didn't get six hour sleep, we barely got four before the kids started waking up and demanding to be fed. As Karen tried to cobble something together from the limited supplies on board, I talked with Nahn about where to head next. When she shuffled onto the flight deck and collapsed into one of the chairs, I became more convinced then ever to stay single.
"Karen, If I ever loose my mind and get married. I want you and Bob to come shoot me. After seeing those little monsters in action for more than an hour or two, I have to wonder how you keep from killing the lot of them every morning."
She gave a weak smile and snickered. "It does get to be a handful every now and then. Anyway, what's up?"
"Well, we have at least two more likely looking sites and about 23 hours left on the clock. It will take Kalindra an hour or two to reduce the leaves to create the antidote, but we should still have plenty of time." The three of us picked the next site and off we went.
Someplace, the god's rolled the dice and our number came up. As the Sunbeam was settling on its legs at the next landing site. The kids started yelling about the same time the radio came to life.
"Right over there!", "Stop shoving and let me see.", <Whack>, and the whole crew revolted against each other in the middle of the flightdeck. While Karen tried to separate them, Nahn was trying to get through on the radio to me.
"Repeat that, I couldn't hear you."
That did it, I turned and started yelling myself. With a little boost from magic, I probably deafen the entire crew. "Shut the hell up right now! The next kid to even mutter to himself, gets handed over to the Owessee." I managed to catch Karen's eye and wink. The kids froze in various stages of mayhem and stared at me. "That's better! Now sit down and stay put." I turned back to the radio. "Ok, now what did you say?"
"Plants up there, many plants!"
I looked at the rock wall we had landed next to, and sure enough there were at least a half dozen of the damn things growing out in plain sight. "Thank God, I don't know how much more of this I could stand. Ok, can you and your friends grab them. I don't want to let the kids out of the ship and then have to spend thirty minutes trying to round them up."
"We get," and I could see a couple of the Meenzal's race out of the Raptor and up the cliff. About ten minutes later, I met them at the hatch and collected the plants. "Thanks!"
"Thanks", "Thanks", "Thanks"
I snickered to myself and remembered the first few days Nahn had been around. With the hatch sealed and the plants safe, I called Kalindra and told her to warm up her cauldron. *We've got more than enough of this stuff, so get your broom and black cat ready*
I transmitted a mental image of the wicked witch brewing a potion in her lab, and laughed out loud at the outrage that came back up the link. Karen was looking at me like I was nuts. I just snickered. "Private Joke." I check my watch and we still had 21 hours to go. With a couple to get the antidote ready, we were going to get back in plenty of time.
As we lifted the ship, I turned and headed back to my mountain home. I had decided that inflicting Bob's kids on the Velan's might be grounds for inter dimensional war. When we landed and the kids started running around the courtyard looking for Megan's dragon, I told Karen how to use the house comm system to contact me if anything came up and then took the plants with me to Kalindra's lab.
If Nahn thought those things tasted bad, he should have had to smell them while they were reduced to the antidote. I lasted all of about five minutes before I excused myself and ducked outside. Tan was right behind me as I and Kal gave us both dirty looks as we left.
"Does everything she cooks smell that bad?"
"Not in general, but I'd stay away from her chili. She had been trying to figure out how to cook some for you, and I would not wish to eat what she has managed to create."
Hummm, that explains why she wanted Karen's cookie recipe. "Ok, I'll keep that in mind the next time it's her turn to cook dinner for class night." About two hours later, Kal stepped outside with a small bottle in her hand. We had known long before the door opened that she was coming and were standing in the middle of the yard as the door opened.
"I prefer to think of it as self preservation. You sure you need the bottle? Just put you in the same room with Bob for a few minutes and he will be wide awake. Green as the sky, but wide awake."
"You want this stuff or not?"
"Come here and say thank you."
I hoped Bob appreciated this when it was over. Trying to hold my breath, I took the bottle from Kalindra and thanked her. Then she ducked back into the house to get cleaned up while I tried to figure out how to get the stink off of my clothes. I was still working at it when she came back outside.
"Pew, you humans sure stink."
"Very funny. Are you going to meet us in the lab, or would you rather chance my house full of kids."
She thought about it for a moment. "I'll meet you in the lab."
"Now who's the coward," and I teleported straight for my bedroom back home. After a quick change of clothes, I grabbed the bottle and headed for the ship. As I came out the doorway, I almost got swatted by Megan's dragon who was back in my front yard again.
"Hey, watch it! Come on kids, get loaded up. Time to go home."
Karen came of and looked at the bottle I was holding. "Is that it?"
"That's it. Certified strong enough to wake the dead. Now get the kids loaded up. We've got to meet Kalindra back home and get this stuff to Bob." I was just starting to turn when I felt something rub against my leg.
"Nahn come too?"
"Sure, get aboard." I motioned at the Raptor sitting to one side of the house. "Your friends going to watch the ship?"
"They watch. Also, fix few things Nahn not make right."
Twenty minutes later, the Sunbeam was resting quietly in its berth in the lunar lab and the whole gang was sitting back in Bob's living room. With Nahn as our guide, Kalindra and I teleported back to the morgue at the hospital. Nahn took up watch by the entry door, and I opened up the vault that held Bob's body. It took a couple of minutes prep time to setup the spell that would infuse Bob with the antidote. You can't exactly get someone who's not breathing to inhale the gas that was being held in the bottle.
"I will need about five minutes to complete the spell. Can you make sure I'm not interrupted?"
I looked over at Nahn. "I think we can guarantee that anyone that tries to bother you will get distracted while you work." While Kal went to work, Nahn and I kept watch on the corridor. Only once did someone even come close, and the two of us got ready to duck out the door and keep them busy. They passed right on by without bothering us and a few minutes later the last of the mist from the bottle vanished into Bob's body. I walked over and looked down at him as he lay there on the slab.
"How long before he comes out of it?"
"I'm not sure with human's. Velan's can take anywhere from five to thirty minutes before then react and their autonomic systems restart."
"Ok, well I'll leave the door cracked slightly and tell Karen it's clear to call the hospital." I was sliding the slab back into the vault when it happened. I'd had my hand curled under the edge and it got caught in the runners as the slab slid inwards. Before I even thought about it, I screamed in pain and started cussing. Kalindra was trying to get me to shut up when Nahn jumped up on the end of the slab.
"Shit!" I grabbed Nahn with one arm and slid the slab home with the other. I could hear the key turning in the lock as Kal slammed the door to the vault and jumped into my other arm. I'm pretty sure we weren't seen as we vanished before I saw anyone step through the door as it opened.
My head felt like it'd been stepped on by a hippo, and the taste in my mouth indicated a dead rat was laying in it. Every muscle in my body ached, and whatever I was laying on was hard and cold.
Light suddenly blinded me, and I felt myself moving. I started to sit up, and I banged my head hard on something above me. When I lay back down again, my head slammed onto the surface I was on, sending even more pain through my body.
"Holy Christ!" said a voice. I carefully tried to sit again, and this time I succeeded. "This guy's alive!"
"And you're fuckin' dead!" I snarled. Light struck my eyes like hot needles, and I felt someone grab my arm. Wrenching away from the hold, I fought for focus.
"Take it easy, man. You're in a hospital. Everything is fine."
"What happened?" I asked. Whoever the people were didn't know, and one of them dashed off to find someone who did. It took a couple of minutes, but I was able to stand. I was pretty shaky, but I was angry. I had no idea what was going on, but it was a sure bet I was going to find out.
It was some doctor named Ott. I asked what was going on, and he told me that I'd suffered some sort of seizure, and they were going to need to make some tests and keep me under close observation.
I knew a morgue when I saw one, and made it clear that I wasn't pleased with the accommodations they'd been providing, and that I'd find somewhere else to recuperate. He placed himself in front of me.
"I can't let you leave."
"Well, you aren't letting me, I'm just going. Where are my clothes?"
Ott told me that my clothes had been bagged and were available if I was going to insist on leaving. I insisted, so they took me to Patient Services after getting me a hospital gown.
"How are you planning to pay for the services you received? Will you be paying cash, or do you have medical insurance?" asked a silver haired woman behind the desk.
Dr. Ott held his hand up and said that there were no accrued charges, and that I was leaving against medical advice. The old lady gave me a dirty look, but fetched a bag with my belongings in it. I put on my clothes right there in the office. Ten minutes later I was hunting for a telephone to call home with. I bumped into Karen in the lobby, and when I asked how she knew to be there, she simply said I'd have it all explained in good time.
I was unhappy to have lost the raptor, but was sad to have lost my cat. When Brian explained the Meenzals would be using it to find their way home, I was happy for them but would miss my Jab a lot.
"Not so much you miss" said a voice.
"Jab? Why didn't you go home?"
"Am home" he said.
I double checked the list to verify I hadn't forgotten anything obvious, and still had a feeling I was forgetting something. "Oh well, I'll remember it eventually. Hey Penny!"
"I've got a list of things for you to help me with if you're not busy."
"Ok, fire when ready."
"First, I need you to identify exactly which remotes you want to be able to use the various gates around here. I'm going to lock some of them down, and close the rest. The last few months have turned this place into grand central station."
"Which one's are you closing?"
"The one between here and my apartment for starters. I can teleport in when I want to. That gate is just an accident waiting to happen."
"The other three in the main lab just get restricted?"
"Yeah, only certain bots', Smaug, and his family will be able to use them at will. Anything else will require a Mage to open it. There have been far too many people and critters just waltzing through here like they owned the place, and it's going to stop."
"Ok, I'll get you a list. What else?"
"Next, I want you to design a training schedule for me. That deal with the Owessee was too close for comfort. I'm pretty good in one on one combat, but that group attack just about killed the whole lot of us."
"Don't kill me, or blow something up that can't be replaced. Other than that, I can't think of anything off hand."
"Ok I'll get started, next?"
"You're going to be getting another request from Bob for a ship. I think the Meenzai have appropriated the Raptor as their own."
"Shit, he didn't even have the thing a month. If he keeps loosing them like this, I'm going to start charging him for them."
I could picture the bill arriving in the mail. "You do that, but let me know before you sent it out. That would be a good time for a vacation. In the mean time, go over the revisions that Nahn made and see what you can do with making them a little more generic. Maybe there is something we can incorporate into the Sunbeam."
"Ok, one StarDestroyer for Bob. Anything else?"
I looked at the list I'd made and checked off some things. "I can take care of that myself... That can wait for Megan to work things out with Bob... Oh yeah..." I swung my chair around and fired up my terminal. "Open me up a link to the Velan DataNet please, I've got some research to do."
Hummm... "Can you keep a secret?"
"Whether or not it violates a promise to anyone else."
"If it's about Kalindra?"
"Just don't ask me about your Birthday present. That's the only thing she has asked me to keep quiet about."
"Hummm... It shouldn't be related to that. Have you noticed her acting a little odd lately? Other than about trying to keep my present a secret I mean."
The pause before Penny's answer let me know she had indeed noticed something. "Do you want me to answer as your sister, or a machine?"
"Oh oh, I've got a feeling I know what the answer is going to be. What does the machine say?"
"Yes, she's acting differently, and towards you in particular."
"And what would my sister have to say?"
"Do you plan on staying single the rest of your life?"
I swallowed wrong and spent the next several minutes choking and wheezing in my chair. "Get me that link, I definitely have some research to do." As the screen came alive, I started scanning the top level index. The whole time I was reading, a quiet dread began to grow in the back of my mind. Maybe this would be a good year to be out of town on my birthday.
"You going to be ok?"
"Ask me in a month."
I nudged the urn sitting in the middle of the table with my foot and snickered. "Damn shame, that's what it is. Hey Kal, quit hogging the joint!" Kalindra took another jolt from the joint we had made from the left over leaves and passed it my direction. "Damn, this is good stuff. It's too bad Bob isn't here to enjoy it."
On the far side of the table, Karen was mumbling to herself. "Assholes, I'm his wife, not that other witch. They were suppose to get MY permission before cremating him."
I nudged the urn again. "Well, it will make a nice ornament for the bookcase." I took another drag from the joint. "Damn this is good. Who would have thought that we spent all that time looking for the alien equivalent of Pot!"
Nahn was lying on his back in the middle of the table and snoring. I reached over and scratched his tummy and listened to him purr. He woke up just far enough to demand another sniff of the joint and went back to snoring. "Stupid cat. Can't even tell the difference between catnip and Pot." I handed the joint to Karen and she sat there staring at the urn in the middle of the table and alternating between the joint and a bottle of rum I'd found. I'd had enough, and from the way Kal was wobbling in her chair, so had she.
I got to my feet and walked over to her. "Come on, time to get you home." I'm glad Karen couldn't understand her reply as she slipped from English back to Velan.
"Don't want to go home, want to get laid!"
"Not likely," and I picked her up and threw her over my shoulder. I looked at Nahn laying in the middle of the table and decided he could fend for himself. "I'll call you in a couple of days Karen." I grabbed the bottle we had discovered was useless and the bag that held the last of the leaves. "Say, I wonder how these would go in cookies?"
* * *
"Will find out how it goes with Mage!" said Nahn, and swallowed Brian in a single gulp.
"Say! You're kind of cute" said Kalindra as she eyed the Meenzal. The two of them went off to the yard to play a little horizontal tackle. Later, the two would stroll through the gate to Velar where they'd raise litter after litter of winter coats.
Karen surveyed the empty room, and looked around. Finding the vault door left open by a very stoned Magician, she picked up a sledge hammer and went inside to divide up the pretty crystal she found. Each of the kids would have a pretty piece for show and tell at school.