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“Captain Cael to the bridge, Captain Cael to the bridge.”
Captain Cael Navek, of the Caitaran Explorer ship Cetani, put the data pad he had been reading down and pressed the intercom switch on his desk. “This is Cael, what’s the problem, Commander?”
“Sir, we’re receiving a transmission from the probe located on E4Y-307, as well as an emergency transponder signal,” Commander Diela Kital, his first officer, informed him.
“E4Y-307,” Cael echoed thoughtfully. “Wait, isn’t that the world Captain Kel and his team were sent to investigate?”
“That’s correct, sir. The Lekur’s last transmission had them entering the sector, but we’ve heard nothing from them since. High command has listed the Lekur as officially missing.”
“Very well. I assume the transmission is encrypted?”
Cael sighed and stood up from behind his desk. “Have communications begin work on decrypting the message right away, Commander. I’m on my way.”
“Understood, Captain,” Diela’s voice said, before the intercom went dead.
“What the hell have you gotten yourself into this time, Kel?” he muttered to himself as he reached for his uniform jacket which hung from the back of his chair, and slipped it on before hurrying out of his ready-room.
Stepping out onto the rear of the Cetani’s bridge, Cael made his way down from the command dais to the communications centre where Diela was hovering behind the young lieutenant manning the com.
“What have you got for me, Diela?” he asked.
“Captain,” Diela answered, straightening her posture and turning to meet him, “It’s definitely a message from Captain Kel of the Lekur. We’ve only managed to decrypt a portion of the message so far though.”
“Enough to determine what the hell happened to them and why it’s taken them so long to report in?”
“Yes, sir,” Diela said, with a nod of her head, “Apparently, the Lekur was shot down while entering orbit around the planet.”
“Shot down!” Cael echoed loudly, his tail beginning to flick back and forth behind him. “By whom?”
“By a race called the T’kri, sir. Captain Kel and the surviving members of his crew are in hiding with second group of aliens, and they’re requesting our immediate assistance.”
“A second group of aliens... natives?” Cael asked.
“No, sir, they’re colonists, a species, new to us, called humans.”
“Tell me about these T’kri,” prompted Cael.
“They’re a reptilian race, violent, and apparently sexless, neither male or female. They have a pretty substantial presence on Alessi—"
“Alessi?” echoed Cael, interrupting her in mid report.
“Sorry, sir, Alessi is the name the colonists have given the planet.”
“I see,” Cael said, and indicated for her to continue.
“The T’kri have one major base, Ru’kayesh, and several domed garrisons, one in each of the six colony towns.”
“Has Kel provided us with the locations of these installations?”
“He has, sir,” Diela confirmed.
“What about the colonists, what are they like?”
“They’re like us, in that they’re an upright, bilateral species, but they have little to no fur except on their heads. Kel reports that one of them is even a telepath.”
Cael’s eyes narrowed slightly at this. “So they have telepaths?”
“Apparently so, sir. It seems that one of Kel’s crew, a telepath by the name of Kiyel, has formed a telepathic bond with one of the male colonists.”
Cael frowned at this, his ears flicking briefly. “Anything else?”
Diela shook her head. “Not yet, sir. We’ll know more once we’ve decrypted the rest of the message.”
“Very well,” Cael said. “Get me a secure line to the Taigana, and then patch it through to my ready-room; I want to speak with Admiral Chuul right away.”
“Aye, sir,” she responded.
No sooner had Cael returned to his ready-room and sat down behind his desk than the com screen over it began signalling an incoming message. Activating the unit, he watched as the Alliance insignia disappeared from the screen and was replaced by a severe-looking and dishevelled Caitaran female wearing her nightclothes.
“Admiral,” Cael said, his ears dipping slightly, out of respect for the other’s superior rank.
“You’d better have a very good reason for contacting me this early in the morning, Captain,” Admiral Chuul said sternly.
“I’m sorry for waking you, Admiral,” he said, “but I thought you should know that we’ve just received a message from Captain Kel of the Lekur. He reports that they were shot down in an unprovoked attack by a race called the T’kri, just as they were entering orbit around E4Y-307. He’s requesting our help.”
“They were what?” Chuul exclaimed loudly as she almost shot up from the chair she was sitting in, an alarmed look crossing her face.
“My crew is still in the process of decrypting the message, so we should have more information about Kel’s situation soon.”
“You were right to contact me, Captain. How long do you estimate it’ll take before your crew has finished decrypting the message?”
“We should have it ready within the hour, Admiral.”
“Excellent,” Chuul said, nodding her head slightly. “Contact me as soon as it’s done. In the meantime, recall any survey teams you still have out there and set a course for the planet immediately. The Taigana will rendezvous with you there to deal with these T’kri. Chuul out.”
Jev and Kiyel sat battered and exhausted under the naturally-formed vine shelter deep within the forest; the same shelter they had used in the past to evade detection by the T’kri. Hours earlier, after having successfully sent a message to the Cetani, a Caitaran Explorer-class starship that was waiting for them in deep space, they, along with Mikkel, Jev’s brother, Janice, a former member of the rebels, and what remained of the Caitaran crew of the scout ship Lekur, were forced to flee the burning wreckage of a T’kri shuttle, which they had stolen during their effort to avoid being captured by the T’kri.
Jev’s head had just fallen onto Kiyel’s shoulder when all of a sudden, a long, piercing scream rang out in their minds, causing them both to cry out in pain and sit up with a start. Instinctively they pressed their hands up tightly against their ears in an effort to block out the sound. But it didn’t do any good and the horrible screaming continued.
Upon hearing Jev’s and Kiyel’s sudden cries and completely oblivious to the screams that now assailed the two telepaths, the others leaped to their feet with alarm.
“Oh God, we’ve got to go,” Jev cried out, his eyes widening with horror just as some of the most disturbing images he had ever seen began flooding his mind, and he quickly, but unsteadily, rose to his feet.
“What?” a startled and confused Captain Kel said. “Go where?”
“Clearhaven, Captain. We need to get to Clearhaven!” Jev said, visibly straining against the scream and the images that continued to assail his mind. He was almost in tears.
“What is it, Jev, what do the two of you see?” Tiela asked, concerned by the level of panic that was being conveyed through Jev’s strained voice.
“I... I can’t...” Jev said, shaking his head as strained tears began rolling down his cheeks, his voice taut with pain. “Kiyel and I have to get to Clearhaven, right now. There’s so little time.”
“Kiyel?” Kel asked, confused and uncertain.
“Captain. If what we’re seeing is happening now, then we may already be too late to save him,” Kiyel answered.
“Too late to save who?” Kel asked, his confusion quickly beginning to give way to frustration, and it showed by the way his tail was flicking back and forth behind him.
“Sir, please, Jev and I really do need to go, now! We’ll rendezvous with you later, back at the caves,” Kiyel pleaded.
Kel saw the desperate urgency that was in Kiyel’s eyes, and he reluctantly nodded his head.
“Very well, Kiyel,” he said. “I don’t like this one bit, and Jev doesn’t look to be in any condition to be travelling right now.”
“We’ll manage, Captain. We have to,” Kiyel said, as he and Jev quickly dropped to all fours.
Then, without another word, they sped off into the forest.
Jev could feel the adrenaline pumping through his system, filling him with energy he desperately needed, as he and Kiyel raced through the forest. The scream they both had heard and felt only a few minutes earlier had suddenly stopped, as had the images, but the pull on them from Clearhaven continued to grow steadily stronger. It made them push themselves harder, to run even faster.
We have to get there, Kiyel, Jev sent, leaping over a fallen log.
We will, Jev. I just can’t believe what we saw, Kiyel told him.
I can’t either, even though I know human history and what some people are capable of,
Seconds later, they erupted from the edge of the forest and sped across the open field towards Clearhaven, which took them only seconds to reach.
Their sudden appearance in the crowded streets predictably caused the townsfolk to quickly scatter into their homes and businesses, screaming in terror. There was nothing Jev or Kiyel could do to avoid this though, and paid them no mind as they instead continued making their way through the streets, in a desperate effort to reach the source of the scream they had heard.
Suddenly, Jev skidded to a halt before one of Clearhaven’s pre-manufactured homes which was in a rather obscure part of town, away from the main streets.
This is it, Jev sent.
Are you certain? Kiyel asked.
Definitely, I can feel him inside. Something isn’t quite right, though, Jev sent.
Standing up, Jev threw himself against the flimsy wooden door, breaking the latch and causing the door to fly open on its hinges. Together he and Kiyel then stormed into the home and quickly scanned the room.
I can hear something in the back room, Kiyel sent as he got to his feet.
Quickly, but quietly, they made their way to the back of the home until they stood before another closed door at the end of a short hall. On the other side of that door they could hear the unmistakable wailing cry of a child and the sound of someone repeatedly being slapped.
They burst through the door into the next room, practically disintegrating the door into tiny fragments, as they did so, and they suddenly came face to face with a scene that made Jev’s stomach lurch with disgust, for on a bed along the far wall of the room, lay a small naked and bleeding boy that could not have been more than three years old, by Jev’s estimation, who was broadcasting his intense pain and fear as he wailed and struggled beneath a dirty, naked and somewhat obese man straddling the boy’s torso.
The scene in front of them left no doubt in either of their minds that this man had been brutally raping the child. Staring at the man with disgust and revulsion, a fiery rage quickly built up within them both, as they seized his mind, discovering that he was, in fact, the child’s own father, and learned all the unimaginable horrors that he had done to his son. With tails lashing violently from side to side, and with teeth bared in a deep-throated growl, they slowly began advancing toward him.
The man screamed and fouled himself, while staring in sheer terror at the two angry Caitarans now bearing down on him. Then, faster than either Jev or Kiyel thought possible, the man climbed off his son and started backing away from the bed. It was then that Jev clearly saw that the man’s son was actually tied down to the bed by his wrists. That fact was not lost on Kiyel, who, with a vicious, angry snarl, launched himself at the man and slammed him viciously up against the wall. The man’s terrified screams echoed throughout the room as he quickly found himself being lifted up off the ground by sharp claws, embedded in his neck.
Get that filthy piece of garbage out of here, Kiyel. I’ll see to the child, Jev sent.
I’ll show this... “person"... the error of his ways, Enassi, he sent, sneering contemptuously at the man, and none too gently, carried the still screaming and struggling man out of the room.
Jev cautiously made his way towards the side of the bed and looked down at the child, whose wide, frightened eyes followed his every move. But as soon as Jev reached down to undo the ropes that held the boy in place, the boy began to cry out in absolute terror, and struggled against them with all the strength he had in him. Jev tried calming him by sending soothing and reassuring thoughts, but the boy seemed unreachable, having gone feral with fear, and losing all contact with reality. Jev knew he had to act quickly, realizing that the boy’s struggles would undoubtedly make his injuries even worse, so he extended his claws and quickly began slashing through the ropes, tearing them to tiny threads. As soon as the final rope had been cut though, the boy scrambled to get up off the bed and away from Jev. Jev’s Caitaran instincts were quicker, however, and he quickly gathered up the kicking and screaming child into his arms, holding the boy firmly, but gently, against his chest. Jev jumped and gasped, as the youngster barely missed his most private parts, and he lifted the child up a little higher to avoid another such incident. Their struggle continued for several minutes more, until, finally, the boy’s strength and stamina began to wain. Jev tried talking softly to the boy, doing his best to assure him that he was no longer in danger, but to little effect. Then he had an idea.
It’s okay, little one, Jev sent soothingly to the boy, who suddenly stopped struggling altogether, and looked up at him, in awe; his eyes opening wide with shock. No one’s going to hurt you, I promise,
Just then, Kiyel came back into the room, causing the little boy to jump in Jev’s arms. Kiyel’s expression was grim.
Jev looked up at him. The father is he—
He’s dead, Kiyel confirmed with a nod of his head. I couldn’t allow him to live; not after what he did to his own son,
Then he looked at the child in Jev’s arms. “How is the boy?” he asked aloud.
“He’s hurt pretty badly, I’m afraid, Kiyel, and absolutely terrified,” Jev replied. “Kiyel, he has a talent. That’s what I sensed outside. It was his screams that we heard out in the forest.”
“I know, I could feel it, too.”
The boy, whose curiosity was apparently stronger than his fear, gently reached up with his hand to touch the side of Jev’s face, and felt the soft, silky hair that covered it.
“Kitty!” the boy exclaimed suddenly.
“We can’t stay here long, Enassi.” Kiyel said. “The townsfolk have already seen us, and they’re sure to investigate.”
“What about the boy?” Jev asked.
“We can’t leave him here with the colonists,” Kiyel answered, shaking his head. “They’re completely ill-equipped to deal with his talent and to heal his injuries. He’ll have to come with us. There’s simply no other choice.”
“Big kitty,” the boy said, with barely the beginnings of a smile forming on his lips.
“Yes, big kitty,” Jev repeated, looking back at the boy.
“Daddy hurt me,” the boy said.
“We know, little one. That’s why we came here. He won’t hurt you ever again. I promise,” Jev answered.
“Kitties don’t talk,” the boy said softly.
“We do; we’re a special kind of kitties,” Jev replied, smiling at him, and being careful that none of his teeth were showing. The last thing he wanted to do was frighten the child any more than he already was. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Jev and that’s Kiyel over there. We’re going to get you out of here and get you all fixed up, so you don’t hurt any more, okay?”
Aiden nodded his head weakly. “But what about my dad?”
“Your dad won’t be hurting you, or anyone else, ever again.”
“Oh,” Aiden said, almost in a whisper.
All of a sudden Jev felt Aiden begin to go slack in his arms. His eyes had closed, and his breathing quickened, as did his heart rate.
“Jev, he’s going into shock. He needs medical attention right away!” Kiyel said with alarm.
“But Tiela’s much too far away,” Jev answered, looking back up at Kiyel, with panic in his eyes.
“There’s always Doc O’Riley,” Kiyel suggested.
“You’re right!” Jev said. “And his home isn’t too far from here.”
“Then let’s get going. We can’t wait any longer.”
“Grab me that blanket over there, will you, Kiyel? We’ll need it to keep him warm.”
Kiyel did as Jev asked, quickly retrieving the blanket and wrapping both Jev and the boy up, before they all left the room, and then the home, together.
“Janette, I think we’ve got another problem,” Tanis said, suddenly walking into her office and causing Janette to jump in her chair, with a start.
“Dammit, Tanis, don’t scare me like that!” she gulped.
“Sorry, Janette, but there’s something I definitely think you need to hear.”
“Is it about that explosion we saw earlier?” she asked, peering over Tanis’ shoulder and seeing a young man standing in the doorway.
“No,” Tanis said, and he beckoned the young man to enter the office. “I’ve just been given some rather... interesting... news by Paul Goodman, here, and I thought you should hear it directly from him,” he said.
“Very well, Mr. Goodman, what is it that you have to report?” Janette asked.
Paul regarded her nervously for a moment before answering. “First Councillor Pelletier, just a little while ago, me and several other townsfolk witnessed two forest cats, larger than any we’ve ever seen before, and wearing some kind of cloth, run straight into town.”
“Hold on a minute, are you absolutely certain about this?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes, ma’am, I am,” Paul answered.
“Incredible! That’s now the second time a forest cat has been seen wandering into a town,” she said, and looked over at Tanis.
“The one in Hillsforde,” Tanis said, nodding his head.
“I wouldn’t know anything about that, First Councillor,” Paul said, “but I do know the cats were seen headed for a house at the far end of town, the one belonging to Luke Hayes and his son, Aiden. It was almost as though they knew exactly where to go. A short time later, screams were heard from inside, and then the same two cats came running out of the house with what appeared to be a child wrapped up in a blanket.”
Janette raised an eyebrow. “Mr. Goodman, I’ll grant you that it’s plausible to think that two forest cats might suddenly attack one of our people—they are wild animals, after all, and known to be fiercely territorial. I’ll even entertain the possibility that they’d suddenly wander into town in broad daylight where they could be seen by dozens of townsfolk. But to suggest that they’d actually have the wherewithal to actually kidnap a child is frankly just too incredible to be believed.”
“I know. I could barely believe it myself. Nevertheless, that’s what happened. What was even more incredible, though, was that this time the cats weren’t running on all fours like you’d expect. Instead, they were running just like we do, on their two hind legs.”
“What?!” Janette exclaimed, getting up off her seat. “Tanis, did anyone go inside the house to check it out?” She asked.
“Yes. Two of our townsfolk found an adult male with his throat literally ripped open like he was mauled by a large animal, and blood was everywhere. In one of the back rooms, we found a bed with freshly cut ropes attached to it. There were some blood stains on the sheets as well. They were pretty shaken up by what they found in there.”
“My God!” Janette exclaimed. “Who do we have in security?”
“Right now there’s no one. Most of them are out investigating that explosion, and won’t be back until tomorrow. The ones we have left are actually with Doctor Sam O’Riley, in Hillsforde, recovering from wounds they suffered at the hands of the T’kri.”
“Great, just great,” Janette said, with a sigh, as she sat back down in her chair.
“Umm, well. There was one other thing that I did notice,” Paul said, speaking up.
“There’s more?” Janette asked, looking up at him.
“I can’t be certain,” he said, “but I think they might have been heading towards Hillsforde, since that’s the road they took when they left.”
“Tanis I want you to get on the com to Doctor O’Riley, right away. If any of our security personal is able, I want them to attempt to capture those cats. Thank you, Mr. Goodman. Now, if the two of you will excuse me, I have some calls, of my own, to make.”
“Right away, Janette,” Tanis said, and with Paul, turned and left the room, closing the door after them.
Together Jev and Kiyel ran along the path Jev knew would take them to the town of Hillsforde and Doc O’Riley’s house. On more than one occasion, they were forced to run past groups of colonists travelling along the same path, all of whom scattered in fear upon seeing them. They didn’t stop, though, and kept on running, ignoring the colonists.
Already, Jev saw that Aiden’s face was becoming paler, and his breathing had grown laboured as he took in only short, ragged breaths. Seeing this made Jev push himself harder, and he began to run faster, until finally, they crested the hill overlooking the town of Hillsforde, where they allowed themselves a moment to catch their breaths.
“We’re just about there, Kiyel,” Jev said. “I can just make out Sam’s house.”
“You know he’s not exactly going to be thrilled to see us when we get there; not with us looking the way we do,” Kiyel told him.
“I guess we’re just going to have to risk using another illusion, then.”
“Are you sure you’re strong enough for that, though?” Kiyel asked.
“For this little guy, I must be,” Jev answered.
“Tiela’s really going to kill us,” Kiyel muttered, with a sigh.
Jev just smiled a lopsided grin at him as they started down the hill.
It took them only a few minutes longer to reach Sam’s home. It was a rather large house, being three stories tall, and located on the outskirts of town. Jev knew, from the times he visited the house in the past, that most of the space inside was actually reserved for patients recovering from injuries or illnesses, who were treated on the second and third floors. Sam, for the most part, lived on the main floor, but he did have a small office on the second floor which he used occasionally to sleep in when he had to be close to a patient.
“Are you ready, Enassi?” Kiyel asked, almost in a whispered voice, when they approached the door.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Jev said.
He then closed his eyes and began carefully forming in his mind, the image of himself as he appeared when he and Kiyel had first left Hillsforde. He felt the familiar tingling sensation, as Kiyel began sharing his energy with him, through their link, giving him the extra strength and stamina; he needed to complete the illusion. With the image fixed firmly in his mind, he sought out the minds of those within the home and began planting it deep into their subconsciousness, thereby ensuring that they would see only his human self, when they looked at him.
Opening his eyes again, he nodded his head to Kiyel, who quickly removed his uniform and tossed it behind some bushes, next to the door, before reverting back to his four-legged posture, and once again looking just like the forest cat that Jev thought he had rescued on that fateful night.
Taking a deep breath, Jev then knocked briskly, on the door.
They could hear footsteps inside, approaching the door, and moments later the lock disengaged and the door opened a notch. From the crack in the open door, Jev could see Sam’s weary face peering out at him. Sam’s expression went from curiosity, to wonder, to recognition to outright joy.
“Jev?” a shocked Sam said, suddenly, throwing the door open wide. “Oh my God, lad, you’re alive! I was afraid you’d died with your father, when the inn burned down! How... where’ve you been?”
“Hi, Doc,” Jev said, with a genuinely happy smile. “Yeah, at the time the fire started, I’d gone out for a walk with Kiyel.”
Sam looked down to see Kiyel standing there beside Jev. “He’s still with you then? Amazing,” he said, obviously surprised to see him.
“Yeah, Doc, listen, can we please come inside, we’ve kind of got an emergency, here,” Jev said, indicating the unconscious Aiden, in his arms, still wrapped up in the blanket.
For the first time, Sam’s eyes were drawn to the child in Jev’s arms, and he frowned deeply. “Of course,” he said, as he stepped back from the door, his tone suddenly serious. “Come in.”