Rrsh'Dhana's diary, part II
I haven't written anything these last two eight-days, not because there's not been anything to write, but because I didn't know how to write it. I still don't know, but I can't keep putting it off any longer. Tomorrow we'll be arriving at our destination, a small town with a large port, so this may be the last night I spend with my lover. Yes, lover. He's lying beside me right now, sleeping. When I first crept into his bed it was to fulfill needs, his need for compassion and my need for... what? Someone to cuddle up to? But now? Now it's for something else. Now it's for love. There! Now I've written it. I love him, and I think he loves me.
It's early morning still, Anthony is up on deck, and I'm about to prepare breakfast. In another hour or two we may be separated, and it scares me. I want to climb up on deck and tell him to turn the ship around, to sail as far away as possible, but I know that we cannot.
It's evening, and we're still together. In fact he's brushing my back right now as I'm writing this. What happened today? I'm not certain about it all myself. Nothing happened as the ship sailed into the harbour. We were finishing up breakfast when a man came to call on us. I fully expected to be chained and brought to a prison camp, but the man, Major Thomas Hinchley, took me to his office for questioning. No, he didn't ask me about the Wrragh'Wí, or 'wolves' as they call them here. Rather, he served tea and cookies and began asking me about interstellar politics. Now I wish that I had listened more to what Daddy was always talking about. He also told me that they had another name for Anthony around here. 'The Iceman' they call him. But there's no ice in the hands that even now caress my tail, imploring me to put my diary away...
Something happened yesterday that I didn't write about last night. After Anthony picked me up at the major's office we stopped at a café to eat. No, it wasn't that all the soldiers there were staring at me -- which they did -- it was one of the soldiers. A big obnoxious brute came over to our booth and tried to start a fight with Anthony. Anthony was sitting down, behind a table and at a distinct disadvantage, but still two other soldiers held the brute back, fearing for his life, not Anthony's. Can one man's reputation be that awe-inspiring? And what has he done to deserve it?
Today the major took me to one of their hospitals, supposedly to get a medical profile. I'm still confused about what I saw there. They made me lie down on a bench that then slid through a machine. At the same time a screen showed my body, bones, muscles, fat, everything, all in different colours to easier show details. It was incredible! Not only did it reveal scar tissue and mended bone in my leg from when I crashed the flier, but it also revealed that I once sprained my hand. No one knew that, not even Daddy. Our own doctors would gladly trade their tails for a machine like that! In another room I witnessed a man being fitted with a crude mechanical arm. How can they have such disparity in technology?
What a day! Instead of another day talking with the major, Anthony took me to a clothes store. Somehow he had managed to get the authorities to pay for new clothes for me. The storekeeper was nice, after she got over the surprise of seeing me in her store, that is. Afterwards we went to the café to eat again. The only thing that could have spoiled the day for me was the same brute that accosted us that first day here. It must be true though, what the humans say here; 'the bigger they are, the harder they fall', for he made quite a lot of noise when I kicked him across the street. Now? Now I'm waiting for Anthony to give me the backrub that he promised me...
When Anthony walked me back to the boat today we met Sarah (the storekeeper) and she invited me to a party that she'll be holding later this evening. She called it a 'baby shower'. I'm either missing something here, or the translator that made the learning tapes messed up. Anthony of course, refused to explain.
Last night was fun. I found out what 'baby shower' meant; that they 'shower' a female that's recently become a mother with gifts. No, they don't drop them on her. It's yet another of those strange phenomena in their language. Anthony, knowing what it was, gave me an envelope to give to the young mother. It was a 'gift certificate'. As I'm led to understand, it's almost like credits, but can only be used in one store. I got to see the child, a small boy, when the mother fed him. He looked... wrinkled and entirely without teeth. The others assured me that it's normal, though. The food was wonderful, a cake with a soft white covering, 'cream' I think it was called, fruit salads and fizzy drinks. They assured me that the drinks didn't contain alcohol so I tried them. The bubbles tickled my nose so much that I had to sneeze. Then they gave me something they called 'chocolate'. I'm not certain what it was, but it tasted great! It also made me feel, not dizzy exactly, but strange in a pleasant way.
A new year begins. It is now more than a year and a half since I left on what I thought to be the winding trail, but which I've later realised was a trip to spite my father. I kind of miss his overbearing behaviour now, because, no matter what he was doing or where, he always managed to celebrate the passing with the family. I don't know who -- I've only told the major -- but someone told Anthony that my people exchange gifts on this day. He gave me a silver bracelet, but I don't think he knows what it means when a male of my people gives a female a bracelet.
The pilots from a nearby airfield invited me over today. They had a small surprise for me, they said. If what they did was a 'small surprise' I'd hate to see what they call a big surprise. They fitted me, as best they could, with a very closefitting and uncomfortable suit -- it's supposed to be like that they told me -- then dumped me into the rear seat of one of their fighters. The noise when it took off was deafening, even through the helmet and ear-protectors, and that was the pleasant part. Right after takeoff the fighter started climbing vertically, and even managed to accelerate! Then the pilot took a few rolls and a loop. Not a pleasant experience without gravity compensators, I almost blacked out once. Then came the real surprise; the pilot told me to go ahead and take the controls. It was... exhilarating having all that power under my control. Afterwards, the pilots explained that the suit -- it's supposed to force blood away from the legs and body cavities and up to the head -- together with special breathing techniques, and extremely reclined seats, allows them to withstand forces of up to seven (!) times the local gravity. No wonder they managed to hold their own against Fang fighters. They also gave me a patch with the squadron's symbols to sew onto a jacket or flight-suit. I somehow qualified as a honorary member by not throwing up during flight.
It's VERY early morning, and Anthony and I have just returned to the boat. A few hours ago Henri (the majors aide) woke Anthony and me with news that there was a ship in orbit, and that I was urgently needed. The ship was Dad's, or to be more precise, the company's fast courier. His ship is descending towards a nearby airfield even as I write this. What will happen? Is he very angry with me?
It's evening and I'm still angry with Dad. He had to ask Anthony about the war even when he didn't want to talk about it. I wish I knew where Anthony is, but nobody knows where he went. The police said they found the car he took midway between the airfield and town, but there all traces ends.
Henri drove Daddy and me into town a while ago so that I could gather my things. It felt strange, walking around in the ship. So quiet, almost as if the ship was angry for something and wasn't speaking to me. Now I'm doing it again, using those weird human expressions. It'll be strange, sleeping alone again. A bonded couple here on the ship offered to let me share their bed, but I didn't feel like it.
I met Anthony again today and I managed to give him a last hug before we left. I don't think Daddy really understands how I feel about him. I met Sarah again too, and she gave me something; a large box of chocolate, and a stern message to return as soon as possible. When we got back to the ship there were four humans waiting for us, three male and a female. Three of them are supposed to study our technology and make the necessary adaptations to fit their computers on our ships. The fourth, a short, scrawny male by name of Roger Thompson, is a physics professor. He's supposed to learn more about hyperspace technology and navigation. It seems that they don't really know how it works yet, and still they managed to send a ship to the Wrragh'Wí homeworld and back. What they did, as he told me, was to take apart the computer from one of the Wrragh'Wí ships, examine how it worked and build a computer that did the same, only faster.
Tonight we almost had a disaster aboard. No, there's nothing wrong with the ship, but we almost lost the professor. It seems that he never read the booklet that the major had compiled, and when Sehh'Remma -- a female bodyguard almost as big as Daddy -- snuck into his cabin last night he misunderstood. Luckily she only made a few, deep scratches before he let go with his hands. Because neither speaks the others language I had to explain, first to him about our people's aversion to sleeping alone, and then to her about the humans interpretation of what it means when a female enters a male's room at night. I think they cleared it up between them though, because this morning they came out of his cabin together, she with a silly grin on her face, and him with a few scratches that wasn't there last night.
Home at last! Or am I? The humans have an expression; 'Home is where your heart is'. It sounds strange, but now I'm beginning to understand the meaning behind it. The technicians are all staying in guestrooms at our house, except for the professor, that is. Sehh'Remma insisted that he stay at her place. When I asked her what she saw in him she told me that it's not easy for her to find a male who's not intimidated by her size, and besides, he tastes good and follow orders. I had my doubts so I asked him, but all he said was that 'terror has its own attractions'. Whenever I think I'm beginning to understand humans they say or do something completely unexplainable.
Mother helped me unpack today. I think she did it because she wanted to see if any of my clothes from Earth suited her; after all, we are about the same size. It's been a long time since we've had so much fun together. I let her borrow the strapless evening gown. The way it fits her is going to cause a riot at least. She also spotted the bracelet that Anthony gave me, and I had to explain that he didn't know what it meant. All she said to that was, 'Did you ask?'
You'll never guess who came by today. Masmah! She made poor Roger faint when she slumped down on the bench next to him and Sehh'Remma. I guess I can understand it; I would probably react that way, too, if a two-meter tall bear sat down next to me. I wonder if I dare show her the pictures of Earth bears that I brought with me? After Sehh'Remma finished scolding her for frightening Roger they decided that they liked each other. Masmah even admitted to telling my father where I was. I'm still undecided about whether to be angry or thankful. After midday we went over to Sehh'Remma's place, a small house by the river. Be VERY careful if you're near water on a hot day if you're in company of a Mhargh. She dropped everything, the belt, the collar -- they don't need clothes with that shaggy fur -- and jumped straight in. And when she got back up a few minutes later she shook herself. There was water flying EVERYWHERE!
I went into town today to get myself something sweet. Who do you think I met at the café? Sehh'Remma, Masmah and Roger. The strangest thing was that he was sitting between them and holding his arms around both, or at least he tried to hold around them. While we were sitting there drinking chilled juice and chatting -- why does my life seem to revolve around cafés? -- Rehh'Sharan walked in. He still had the delusion that I liked him, and even had the audacity to try to give me a grubby, old bracelet! I don't think he'll bother me again though, for Masmah yanked an iron bar from the fence and casually wrapped it tightly around his fat body, then told him that if he ever came near me again, she'd tighten it.
Today came what I've been dreading since I returned; a group of clan elders came to talk with me, to find out what, if anything, I've learned on my journey. I served them tea and even gave them a small piece of chocolate from my dwindling supplies, then we sat down to talk. The humans have a name for the sensation; 'deja vu' to describe the feeling that you've experienced the exact same event before. It felt exactly like, first, Anthony's interrogation, and then the long sessions with the major. I still don't know exactly what they were looking for, but when they left a few hours later, Rrsh'Marree -- my Fathers aunt -- held my hand in both of hers. When she released her grip there lay a single, plain, gold ring in my palm.
Getting an ear pierced hurts!
The company council approved Daddy's contract with the Humans yesterday, and he's now busy hiring pilots and technicians for a flight of old Talon Two fighters. They're nowhere near as good as the Longpaw fighters our people now have, but if the Humans fly them the same way they fly their own fighters, they'll either break apart or outperform everything else. I saw Roger again today. He looks stronger and more alive (?) than I can ever remember seeing him. Sehh'Remma, and probably Masmah too, seem to be good for him.
Finding technicians for the fighters wasn't too difficult, but finding pilots was worse. Most seem eager for a chance to fly, and maybe even actual combat, but they don't want to do it in the Talons. I got a few to change their mind by showing them actual recordings of Earth's hopelessly outdated fighters attacking and winning against modern Wrragh'Wí Fangs. Mother is right, it's easy to get a male to do what you want if you only use the right approach. No male likes to be told that there are others out there who are braver than he. Besides, telling them how it felt to control one of those fighters didn't hurt either. Males are like small cubs; always wanting to try a shiny new toy.
Daddy's away again. The assembly of traders wanted to talk to him about supplying modern weapons to an aggressive and dangerous race. He told me that he had a suspicion who was behind the accusations, and that I had to make certain the freighter left on time. We're still assembling equipment, but it looks like we're set for launch in an eight-day.
We've begun loading the freighter. Half the fighters are already on external points where they can be launched immediately. To 'refresh' the pilots in battle-drills we keep four of them in their fighters at all times, running systems checks and testing weapons systems. If nothing else, it keeps everyone else at a respectful distance. The rest of the fighters are either on the ground or flying 'practice' escort missions, following the large shuttles around. I'm not certain this was what father meant when he told me to make certain nobody interfered, but the pilots are enjoying themselves.
All the fighters are safely attached, all cargo is stowed and all passengers are aboard. Now we're only waiting for clearance from traffic control to launch. There are a few more passengers than expected though; a few doctors wanting to study Earth-type medical equipment, a few artists, a few diplomats, Sehh'Remma and Masmah. Sehh'Remma won't let Roger out of her sight; she claims he needs someone to look after him, and Masmah has decided that they need her help in constructing the lunar facility. Me? I've spent the last eight-day surreptitiously packing clothes and other belongings. I left a message for Mother that I think she'll understand; 'I decided to ask about the bracelet'.
It's now two years since I started my journey. Only two years? It feels like I've experienced enough for an entire life already. To celebrate the occasion I split the rest of the chocolate with Sehh'Remma, Masmah and Roger. The way Masmah sidled up to Roger, and his desperate efforts to fend her off afterwards can only mean that it had an even stronger effect on her than the rest of us. We've been traveling for almost four eight-days now, and we still have two to go. I now understand why Daddy wants the new computers so badly.
We returned to normal space a few minutes ago. As soon as we got radio contact with the Earth forces and identified ourselves we launched four of the fighters into a high orbit. Now we're preparing to launch another four fighters and the two large shuttles. The shuttles are both half-full with maintenance equipment and half with passengers and luggage. As soon as we're away, the freighter will move into another orbit and take on the job as fighter base, supplying those fighters not on the ground. In a few eight-days they'll begin the work of installing the new computers.
The shuttle landed half an hour ago, and it's taken me this long to retrieve my bag. Now I'm sitting in a car -- belonging to one of the local fighter pilots -- heading towards town. Why am I suddenly feeling so giddy as if I've just eaten a pound of chocolate?
Home! The boat's gentle movements, the creaking sounds, the smell of salt water, oils and lacquers, the silver bracelet on my arm. All that and Anthony's arms around me, everything tells me; this is home.