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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
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The Caitaran scout ship Agiz approached the planet designated PX-2217. Its occupants were busy studying the many readouts and making adjustments to their equipment. Captain Kel waited impatiently as they neared the planet, his fingers tapping the surface of his arm rest rhythmically. Of the eight members of his crew, only those needed on the bridge, and his chief engineer, were on duty. The rest were awaiting touchdown to begin their part of the mission.
As they approached the planet, the Captain allowed his mind to go over some of the reports he had received on this planet. High Command especially wanted this planet checked out due to a sudden loss of communication with a probe launched several years earlier. His mind was suddenly brought back by his first officer's voice.
"Captain Kel, it's confirmed. The probe the Cetani launched ten years ago has ceased functioning."
The Captain sat up slightly in his chair. "Very well, Commander Oshi, proceed with your scans; I want to know what's going on down there. Probes don't just stop working."
Captain Kel turned to his navigation officer, "Lieutenant Taaj, prepare to initiate landing procedures once Oshi has completed his scans."
"Aye, Captain," Taaj responded.
Once again, Captain Kel was forced to wait impatiently for any information they could gather. The whole situation was making him feel very uneasy. Of all the duties he had to perform, reconnaissance and scouting were the most stressful. For the most part, it was extremely dull work which entailed long periods of nothing to do but wait, but on the rarest of occasions, things happened which required him, and his crew, to be in top form. This mission was shaping up to be one of those dull ones, and he couldn't wait to get back to the Venture.
Suddenly, Lieutenant Izha, his communications officer, turned to him, a look of surprise on her face. "Captain, I am picking up transmissions from the surface Sir, but they are not, I repeat, not of Caitaran origin. Someone or something else is down there, Sir!"
The Captain stood from his command chair and walked swiftly to Lieutenant Taaj's station. "Taaj, take us into a high orbit. Izha, who in the name of the gods is down there?"
"Unknown Captain! I do not recognize the transmissions," she replied.
"Captain, I'm picking up three small craft launching from the surface of the planet, configuration unknown. They are on an intercept course," announced his tactical officer, Lieutenant Jaffay!
Jev Bjorn was bored. Not the kind of boredom that one would feel when a task was completed early, but a lingering boredom in which time itself seemed to slow down to nothing, and the day seemed to drag on without end. In fact, it was only mid-day; Haven's sun was still high in the sky thoug covered by thick clouds. Jev would give anything to be able to be outside rather than cooped up in his room at the inn like some child being punished by his parents, even on a day as gray and ominous as this one.
No, that wasn't quite fair, Jev knew. In fact, the only reason he was in his room, lying down on the bed staring up at the ceiling at the moment, was due to his brother. His brother, Mikkel, had always been the adventurer. He was never one to wait on customers at the inn, or clean dishes, or do any of that type of work.
Just last month he had told his father that he was joining the rebels in their fight against the T'kri invaders. His father and Mikkel had a huge argument about that decision. Jev remembered it well.
"Dad, you just don't get it do you? It's been five years since the T'kri have been here. Five years of murdering colonists, confiscating our crops, and making our lives here miserable. I can't sit back and let this continue. I have to do what I can to stop them."
"Don't you tell me about T'kri barbarianism, I am well acquainted with it, but I have serious concerns about you wishing to join that group of rebels. You and Jev are the only two people that matter to me, and I will not let you run off to try and become some kind of hero," Jev's father responded angrily.
"Give me a break Dad! Every day with the T'kri here we are all in danger. You know how they are. At any time they could decide to pick on one of us just for the hell of it. They enjoy seeing us suffer. I cannot sit around and do nothing. I've made my decision Dad, and I'm going!"
With that Mikkel stormed out of the inn and neither Jev, nor his father, had seen him since. Jev's father broke down at one of the tables and wept openly. Jev did all he could to help his father. He didn't agree with his brother, but he understood his reasons. Mikkel had gone to join the rebels and that left Jev, alone with his father, to look after the inn, which he had done ever since he was an energetic young boy of five years of age.
Jev was the classic Scandinavian stereotype. He had blond hair and blue eyes. For all his sixteen years of life, he stood only five feet, six inches tall. As he spent most of his life looking after the inn with his father, he wasn't as built as some of the other boys in town, most of who worked on the various local farms.
There was a sudden commotion down stairs, bringing Jev out of his thoughts, and he was thankful to have an excuse to get out and do something, so he hurried out of his room and ran down to see what was going on. The inn was beginning to fill up with members of the town council, his father already preparing fresh drinks for the arriving guests. Jev hurried behind the bar, grabbing an empty tray as he began placing the mugs that his father had already filled onto it.
"Thanks Jev. I would have called you to help out but they came suddenly and I don't think they're here just for a social chat either, especially not on a day like today with a storm approaching," his father said to him as he filled up the last mug.
"Don't worry Dad." Jev said. "I was bored and heard the noise down here. I'll get them served and make sure there are enough chairs while you get the food ready."
His father smiled at him and ruffled up his hair a bit. "I'm proud of you, Jev."
Jev smiled up at his father and then carried the tray to a group of tables that the council members had already brought together. He then went to the far wall by the fireplace and gathered up some of the stacked chairs and began to arrange them around the table. While doing that, he listened as carefully, and as discreetly, as he could to what they were saying.
"Bob, I'm telling you, something is up with the T'kri. I've never seen them nervous before, and they are definitely nervous," said one man as he sat in one of the chairs, and took one of the mugs from the tray.
"Oh come off it, Sam," said Bob to the first speaker. "You've always been one to see conspiracies where there are none. Maybe they're just doing some training exercises or something."
"No way Bob, I know what I heard. One of those high ranking officers was ordering a few of his pilots around like it was some emergency. Anyway, since when have the T'kri ever gone out for training exercises? This is supposed to be their rest and relaxation planet after all," said Sam.
Jev had made his way to the last of the councilors, who were now all present and seated at the table. As he approached Janette, the elected head of Haven's governing council, he couldn't help but notice how relatively tall she was compared to most women that he had seen. She had long, straight brown hair that fell just below her shoulders, and deep brown eyes that almost seemed to bore into anyone she made eye contact with. Janette was by no means, a weak looking woman. She had an air about her that projected a strength of character and determination that was unmatched by anyone else in the room. Jev handed her the drink his father had prepared, and she looked up at him.
"Thanks Jev," she said. "It's nice to see you again. How have you been holding up?"
"Okay I guess," Jev replied. "I miss my brother though."
"I know it's hard right now, Jev. It certainly can't be easy looking after this inn alone with your father. You look like the kind of young man that can handle things though. I need you to do me a favor; I need you to be strong for your father. He may seem like he's taking your brother's decision fairly well, but I know he needs you more than he realizes. Can you do that for me?"
"I'll try," Jev replied. He walked up to the bar, sat on a stool, and continued to listen in on the councilors as they had their discussion, or, as Jev felt, their pathetic posturing. For a long time now, Jev had been privy to some of the council's impromptu meetings. It was the same story every time, one member makes a comment about some issue, and another needing to respond to the comment, each response becoming more irrational as they went back and forth.
"I bet it's the damned rebels causing all this mess," another councilor stated. "I'm telling you, we should have put a stop to them as soon as they decided to break off from the rest of the colony and begin attacking the T'kri at will."
Jev could see that there were several heads nodding in agreement to this statement, but no one said a word, except for his father who had by this time come out to the table that the councilors were sitting at.
"That'll be enough of that crap Jeff," Jev's father said sternly. "My own son's just recently joined up with them, and while I don't agree with their methods, I certainly will do everything I can to help them. No one wants the T'kri here. This colony should be a lot further along than it is now, and would be, except for those damned T'kri messing things up."
That comment made Jev smile with pride for his father. While he played the role of a simple inn keeper, Jev's father was secretly also a member of the Colony Council. This was but one of many things that the colony leaders kept from the T'kri. It wouldn't do to have them suspicious about secret gatherings, but a bunch of guys getting together at the local inn was not uncommon.
"Ever since we established this colony after leaving Earth seven years ago, we worked our butts off at getting this colony up and running, and with the arrival of the T'kri five years ago, it has been that much harder for us to be able to survive, much less thrive on this planet. On top of that, during the crossing we lost some very valuable members of this colony, most of them women, including my wife. I don't agree with the actions of the rebels any more than you do, but we need them just as much as they need us," Jev's father said.
"Okay, lets calm down here a bit people," said Janette forestalling any other arguments. "It's obvious that the T'kri are fretting about something. There have been more patrols in town for the last couple hours, and several T'kri ships have been spotted taking off from their base. What we need, is to find out what has them in such a state."
"Janette, we all know how these rebels operate, especially Lars and myself," Jeff said nodding his head towards Jev's father. "It is more than likely that they might have had something to do with the T'kri's actions."
"I understand you wanting to blame the rebels Jeff, especially since your son got killed shortly after he joined them. You've been trying to track them down and have them arrested, and while I openly support your actions, as it has kept the T'Kri off our backs for the most part, don't you dare let your feelings towards them blind you to your responsibilities to this colony. Once the T'kri are off this world, we'll deal with the rebels then if they become a problem. Until then, they serve a useful purpose, and I will not have you distract us from our goal of getting rid of the T'kri for good. Do I make myself clear?" Janette asked sternly.
Jeff reluctantly nodded his head. "Yes. Perfectly," he mumbled.
"Janette, have there been any communication with the rebels at all to explain the T'kri's activities?" Lars asked.
"Yes, but they have only preliminary guesswork at this point. While they have the equipment to listen in on the T'kri's transmissions, they still aren't able to decipher most of the language and they have some very talented people working on it, as do we. From what they have been able to understand so far, something off world has captured their attention. We don't know for certain, but it is possible an alien ship has been spotted and intercepted," she replied.
"Well I might be able to add to that then," said Bob. "Several farmers to the west have reported to me that during the night they were awoken by what sounded to them like a very large explosion. If the T'kri did encounter an alien ship in orbit, it is more than likely that it was intercepted and shot down."
Lars was thinking hard at this point. "Then it's possible the increase in patrols is a result of that crash, and a distinct possibility that they suspect that there might be survivors."
Jev absorbed the importance of this last statement, and stared out the window to the storm gathering outside, wondering if another alien race had indeed crashed, perhaps the same race that the T'Kri were at war with. If that was the case, Jev knew that it would be in the colony's best interests to find the survivors before the T'Kri did. Another thing that Jev found puzzling, was that it felt to him as if he was being watched, a feeling that he couldn't shake off no matter how hard he tried.
Kiyel made his way slowly across the snow covered landscape, his advance hindered by the wind and blowing snow which battered at him mercilessly. Tired, and out of breath, he collapsed to the ground, a jarring action which sent a bolt of pain shooting up his side. Looking down, he could see the wound just below his ribs that had been bandaged earlier, blood beginning to seep through the dressing and coating his fur. His breathing had become shallow, he was perspiring despite the cold air, and he could feel himself begin to weaken, his muscles straining with each move he made. He recognized the signs of a fever, and he knew it was because of the wound in his side which had most likely become infected. The cold air only made his condition worse, draining what little strength he had left in him. He knew that if he didn't find help soon, he would most likely die out here alone.
Gathering up his resolve, and pushing the pain aside, he pulled himself up, carefully standing back up on his hind legs. The pain he felt when weight was put on his left side was almost unbearable, only his determination keeping him on his feet. He waited until the throbbing in his side lessened before continuing.
In this strange place, he knew nothing of where he was headed. His first thought was to follow the rest of his people to the forest in the hills, a decision he quickly changed as the shock of his injury wore off and the pain began. The path to the forest would force him to travel uphill, an endeavor that would have been impossible in his condition. Instead he decided to make his way down the hillside, using the terrain to minimize the strain he felt as he traveled. Had it been not been necessary by the threat of the others who had attacked his ship, he would not have attempted to move. The rest of his people escaped into the forest, avoiding detection by the others, and leaving him behind to follow as best he could.
It had been hours since the crash, his trek across the unfamiliar land hampered occasionally by the pain in his side. His extremities had begun to become numb with the cold, and he did his best to keep moving, fighting off the threat of frostbite. His fur provided him some protection from the elements, but in this exposed area, there was little to stop the wind from beating down on him mercilessly.
The only thing that he knew for certain was that there was something further down this hill, and in the valley below that possible could save him, a presence that he had detected earlier. It was faint, and untrained, yet he could feel the mind of one who had a talent. It was his best hope, and he knew he needed to reach this person soon if he had any chance of survival.
Kiyel was thankful that, aside for some of the various wildlife on this planet, he never ran into any of the others, the ones responsible for shooting down the scout ship. He knew what they looked like, as his people had encountered them before in brief skirmishes, however, not much was known about them.
What he did find amusing, despite his dire situation, was how uncanny it was that some of the wildlife so closely resembled his own people, albeit not as evolved. They were obviously feline, with most of them sporting thick black pelts. Unlike himself, they were obviously well adapted to the environment, a fact that made it important for him to avoid them, especially in his rapidly weakened condition. Had he been stronger, and uninjured, he knew he could have been able to fend off any attack, but in this state, he knew it would not take much for him to quickly become prey.
It was slow, arduous work coming down from the hill to the valley below. Once there, however, it didn't take him long to spot the faint lights signaling civilization through the thick snowfall. The presence he felt before was there, he knew it. His strength was quickly leaving him, and he knew he had very little time left. Gathering the last of his resolve, he pushed his way through the storm on all fours, making his way towards what looked to him like a small town.
He could no longer feel the pain in his side, a deep chill penetrating deep to his bones. Knowing his situation desperate, and realizing that he would not be able to reach his destination in time, he collapsed in the snow, exhausted. He knew only one hope remained, and that hope lay in the presence he felt earlier, a presence that had become stronger the closer he was to it.
Fighting the cold, and the desire to sleep, he used every ounce of strength left in his body and focused all his thoughts towards the presence, hoping against all hope, that whoever, or whatever, it was would understand and find him.
Jev had just finished downstairs, putting away the last of the dishes, the council meeting having finished hours prior. By the time the meeting was done, the storm that had been gathering earlier had become a raging snow storm, one of the worst ones Jev had ever seen. What seemed to bother him most, however, was not the storm outside, but rather that odd feeling he had before. Instead of going away like he had expected, it had in fact become stronger, as if whoever it was, was somehow closer.
Chills ran down his spine as he tried to shake off the feeling once more, again without much success. Hoping that a good night's sleep would rid him of this feeling, he lowered the light in the lantern which hung by the door to his room and slipped into his bed, and pulled the covers over top of him.
The wind outside was howling and pressing up against the window, had it not been for the oil heater, he knew his room would have been very cold indeed, and he was thankful that they had been allowed by the T'Kri to keep them.
Just as he had begun to close his eyes, already heavy in anticipation of the deep sleep awaiting him, he was suddenly jolted out of his bed by a sharp stabbing pain in his head. So strong was the pain that he failed to notice he had fallen out of bed and onto the floor. Despite the pain he felt, he swore he heard a voice calling out to him, a voice which clearly said two words. "Help me."
The pain in his head lessening, he shook his head, and gathered himself up from the floor, and walked towards the window, inexplicably drawn towards it. He looked outside, and where he expected to see only blowing snow covering the landscape below, he thought he saw a shape lying in the field, half covered in snow.
"No, not possible," he muttered to himself, looking away from the window and thinking that he was imagining things. Something inside him made him look once more out the window, and again he saw the shape, but this time he swore he saw it move. Wasting no time, he bolted out of the room, and ran down the stairs.
"Jev, what the hell's gotten into you?" Lars called down to him from the top of the stairs, obviously having been awoken by the commotion in Jev's room.
"No time to explain, Dad," Jev answered back. "I need to check on something. I might be crazy, but if I'm right, someone's out there," he said, already pulling on his jacket and boots.
"I'll be right there," Lars replied.
Jev didn't wait for his father to get his boots and jacket on as he pushed open the door, fighting the wind as it tried to slam the door back into his face. Holding up his arm to protect his face, Jev made his way slowly towards the field where he knew who ever it was lay. It didn't take him long. The figure was still and mostly buried by the snow, so he brushed off as much of it as he could to see if whoever it was, was still alive.
Jev jumped back in shock as he saw the face of the figure lying on the ground. "Oh my God, you're a cat!" Jev exclaimed.
"Jev, move aside!" Lars yelled from behind him. Jev turned to look at his father and immediately moved to cover the animal on the ground with his own body.
"Dad, you can't!" he yelled back, not willing to give his father the chance to use the shotgun he held in his hands.
"Jev, be reasonable, that's a forest cat! A wild animal! It's more likely to attack you than anything else, now stand aside so I can put it out of it's misery, if it's still alive."
"No, Dad. I will not let you do it. I can feel it still breathing so I know it's still alive, but it won't be for long if it stays out here. We have to help it!"
"Jev, do you know how dangerous those animals are? This isn't like the pet cat that you had when you were younger. This is a wild animal, a carnivore. If I let that thing live, who knows what it could do to you. I lost Mikkel, I'm not going to lose you too."
"No, Dad. I will not. I am going to help it, and I will do it with or without your help. And even if it wanted to hurt me, I don't think it's in any condition to do anything right now. Please, Dad. Let me do this."
Lars looked down at the stricken animal now partially covered by his son's body. He could plainly see the face of the animal, and saw its pink tongue protruding from its panting mouth. He knew enough to know that if this animal didn't get help soon, it would soon be dead. "Very well, Jev," he said. "But you will have to get off it so I can pick it up. I am not going to let it near you until I know it's safe.
Jev didn't move until Lars had lowered the gun, and using the strap that was attached to it, had it slung across his back. "Please hurry, Dad," Jev pleaded. "I don't think it has much time left."
"I know, Son. Run ahead and get O'Riley on the phone." Jev seemed to hesitate, looking at Lars. "I promise, Son, I will not hurt it, unless it tries to attack me. Just get going, we don't have much time." With that, Jev took off back towards the inn. Pulling open the door he ran inside towards the back of the kitchen where the phone was set up. While the phone was more a two-way radio, the colonist found it was much easier to adopt an old Earth term for it, one that had been used for an older form of communication.
Quickly typing in the code for the town's only doctor, Jev waited impatiently for someone to answer the page. It seemed like hours had gone by before he heard Doc O'Riley's voice on the other end. "Hello? Who's this? Do you have any idea what time it is?" the man complained, sounding as if he had just been woken up.
"Sorry Doc, we have a situation over here," Jev replied apologetically.
"Jev? Is that you?"
"Yeah, we need you to get to the inn right away."
"What's wrong? Is it your father? Are you okay?" O'Riley asked, obviously awake now and very concerned.
"Yeah, we're fine, but we found something outside in the snow, and by the looks of it, it doesn't have much time left."
"Heh, it's probably one of those T'Kri isn't it Laddie? Fine. Let it die. Good riddance I say."
"Doc, you know I wouldn't be calling you about some stupid T'Kri soldier. No, this is something else. It looks like one of the forest cats, and it's in bad shape."
There was a pause on the other end of the line as O'Riley seemed to digest the information Jev had just given him. "I'll be right over." With that, the line went dead just as Lars had reached the door and kicking it with his boot. Jev rushed to the door after hanging up the phone, and opened the door for his father. Together, he and Jev brought the cat into the inn, placing it onto one of the tables by the fireplace.
In this light, Jev got a better look at the animal. It looked a lot larger than some of the wild forest cats he remembered seeing a while back, and he couldn't remember seeing one with this coloured pelt. Most of the cats around here had black fur, but this cat almost looked like the pet cat he once had as a child. Its fur was a golden tan colour, with barely noticeable darker tan stripes running across it's body. Its nose looked dry and cracked. It was still panting, taking rapid shallow breaths. As he ran his hand across its fur, a feeling began to take form within him, a sense of familiarity. It was as if he knew this cat, and knew that it meant him no harm. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't shake the feeling.
Now, more than ever, Jev knew that this cat needed to be saved. It had to live, and in his mind, he began to say over and over, "Please live."
As if the cat could hear his thoughts, it opened its eyes slowly and looked at Jev, then lowered its head till its muzzle was next to Jev's hand. Slowly, and with a gentleness Jev never expected, the cat began to lick his hand. Lars saw this and started to pull his son away from the cat, but one look at both his son, and the cat's faces, and he realized that it intended no harm.
The cat regarded Lars briefly, before putting its head back down upon the table, its eyes closing once more. It was still in danger, and in obvious pain, but Jev thought he saw, for just a second, the cat actually smiling.
To Be Continued ...