BLUE HORIZON, BOOK 2
— Episode 14
SS Blue Horizon PA1138
The Blue Horizon is currently resting in the metropolitan city of Rrowrnon on Fyn, having delivered a shipment of electronic and technical parts for a new communications center that will help bring Fyn further into the net of the Planetary Alignment. Fyn is not primitive but they are possibly the least technologically developed world of the PA, as well as the youngest member of the Alignment, having only joined up at Earth’s behest a mere twenty-five years ago.
Our flight from Pomen went smoothly, though I had Renny plot us a course outside of the normal trade routes due to rumors of a new series of pirate attacks in the area. I’ve had my fill of pirates and although my new ship is armed to the teeth, I have no desire to put it to the test.
Despite the newness of the vessel, my crew was rather quiet on this voyage. The absence of both Taro and Patch was strongly felt and everyone tends to avoid talking about either of them. I’m sure Cindy has felt the strain in taking over the position of a well-loved crew member, but she hasn’t complained — not to me, anyway. Possibly the one person on board who might know exactly what she’s going through might be Renny, as he came onboard right after Jiro died — at the hand of the same pirate which nearly destroyed us this time, I should add. However, despite having an eye for the ladies, I’ve seen no indication that he’s made any advances toward our new crew members. Lori and Cindy are both quite sensual and openly flirt with the males on board, but Renny and Taro were lovers. I don’t think the cheetah will give in to their charms until he’s at least heard something on her fate.
Tanis, on the other hand, seems to be interested in both of our new gals, as does Pockets. Tanis and Taro used to be a casual item in times past, but in the months prior to Sagan’s final attack, I noticed a marked change in my medic. He seemed to have distanced himself from Taro in a romantic sense to allow Renny to charm her unchallenged. I don’t know if that was the result of Taro’s feelings, Renny’s or Tanis. It could be any number of reasons. While I have no proof, I strongly suspect both of our new crew members have had private liaisons each with Tanis and Pockets. I have no problems with this, so long as it doesn’t affect their duties to the ship.
Max has made great progress in the engine room. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so young enjoy his own duties quite as much as he does. He loves learning new things and it gives him a sense of purpose he didn’t seem to have in the galley. He still doesn’t have the expertise that Pockets does, but with his memory for procedure, I suspect Maximillian is going to be a great mechanic in time.
Durant has been quiet lately. He’s taken his role as first officer well enough, but he tends to spend most of his time alone down in his office on the cargo deck, even to the point of fixing his own meals in the kitchenette there. I worry about him. He’s been a good friend for a number of years and he and I used to visit often during off-duty hours before we lost the other ship. No doubt he’s still a little traumatized from the whole experience. Cindy has a degree in psychology, so I may have her visit with him about it later.
Perhaps the one individual on board the least affected by everything is Samantha. She’s kept a cool head on her shoulders and has been openly friendly to everyone, but I think I sense a little animosity between her and Lorelei. It’s nothing I can put my finger on, as I’ve not heard them get into any arguments, but just a gut feeling. If there’s anything I’ve noticed about Sam since the crash, she’s spent more time with me during off-duty hours. It could be concern about my well-being, but it’s not anything she’s talked about.
I’ve known her far longer than anyone else on my crew, and we’ve been occasional playmates, but she’s been more my best friend than anything else. There have been many times that I’ve thought about our relationship; I do love her, but I’ve not quite decided if I’m in love with her or just comfortable with her. However nebulous my feelings may be, I’m glad she’s here. She’s been my confidant on more than one occasion and while she doesn’t always have a solution to my troubling thoughts, it’s nice just to have someone to listen.
Renny is still limping on his injured foot, despite his ongoing physical therapy. He’s always been the athletic type and I’ve seen him spend a lot of time on the onboard exercise equipment. Sometimes I hear the thump thump thump of his feet as he uses the oval corridor of the crew deck to jog around. He doesn’t have the swiftness he had before and I know this really bothers him, but if he continues this, he’ll be back up to speed before too long.
Cindy has already been in contact with the SPF headquarters on Joplin, where we are scheduled to deliver a load of nothing more exciting than linens, clothing and recreational materials. Joplin is a tiny planet in the geometrical center of the combined worlds of the Planetary Alignment. Its sun is dim and dying and its sole planet is an airless rock of common and undesirable minerals. It’s considered neutral territory by the Alignment, which made it the perfect place for the Spatial Police Force headquarters.
Unfortunately for those who work in the pressurized domes of the SPF HQ, there’s not much to see and do there other than daily duties, so leave-time is frequently granted to the cops who have been there for months at a time. There are no actual exports from Joplin for us to make a delivery elsewhere, so we’ll be flying empty to Kantus, but Cindy has already lined up a job for us from there hauling miscellaneous starship parts to the Mars colony in the Sol system.
She had originally had us down to deliver a variety of export goods to Nalirra from Kantus, but I don’t particularly like going to Nalirra and the cargo would have been too small, so I stepped in and nixed that particular delivery. It’s probably the most war-like of all the PA worlds besides mother Earth and they always seem to be feuding with other planets, though they haven’t started any actual wars in a long time.
It’s been several years since we’ve been to Nalirra, and Tanis wasn’t thrilled to be going back there either. It’s his homeworld and he says he lives in fear of being drafted back into their military yet again if he’s even in the vicinity of the place. Nalirra is not a low-class, sleazy place like Brandt or Quet, but prejudice is high there. People seem to be tightly wound and minor things tend to set them off. Visitors always have to be careful how they phrase their conversations while there. There are nice areas to visit across the world of Nalirra, but the general attitude of the natives makes it hard to enjoy them. One sometimes wonders if the planet was an original dumping ground for Earth’s more violent colony volunteers, but I’ve never been able to find anything like that in the history texts.
We’ve stocked up with our standard food supplies while here on Fyn to cover our needs to and from Joplin (since we won’t be able to restock while there) and we are now only a few hours away from take-off. One member of my crew still hasn’t come back from his shore leave, and I’m hoping Tanis makes it in time. The Blue Horizon is back in business, but since we were out of the game for three months, I don’t want to have any more delays than necessary in our schedule.
The last I heard, Tanis was visiting with an old buddy of his who lives up in the mountains out away from the metropolitan areas of Fyn. Maybe the fresh air will do him good, but I find I’m constantly watching the clock for his return. I’ve never had to leave anyone behind due to someone not getting back before launch, but there’s always a first time.
Merlin Sinclair, Captain
Twenty miles to the southwest of the Rrowrnon metropolis, Arktanis TeVann and Clarence Duffy were steadily walking through the dense foliage of a large, undeveloped forest. The desert fox’s loose-fitting dark green shirt was torn and smudged in places, as were his tan shorts. There were shallow cuts on his arms and legs and a nasty bruise was swelling on the left side of his forehead. His companion, a male husky with dark fur and dusty grey arms, legs and tail, was in similar shape. His bright red, flowered shirt was like a beacon in the dark green leaves and grey shadows of the forest. The overhead tree branches blocking a good portion of the afternoon sun were high enough off the ground that the underbrush of the forest floor was thick and difficult to travel through. The smell of rotting leaves, the aroma of a myriad flowers and the moist tang of humidity permeated the olfactory senses of the tired and weary pair.
“Ya drove that floating rustbucket ya call an aircar into a tree... in the middle of nowhere... as we cut across country... and my ship will be taking off soon, with or without me,” Tanis grumbled to himself. “We’ve been walking for over an hour and have barely made any headway through this mess.”
He stumbled over a tree root but caught himself before he fell onto his face into a thorny briar. “What lousy luck,” he grumbled again. His sleeve caught one of the tiny spikes and ripped as he pulled it away.
Duffy shook his head as his friend made his way around the prickly brush. “Despite your efforts to get us lost in all this,” he said in a deep voice, “I think there’s a main road not far from here.”
Tanis sighed in relief as they shuffled into a clearing of dry leaves and knee-high grasses. A spot of vibrant sunlight pierced the tiny field, which made them both squint in the sudden brightness.
“If we’re lucky,” Duffy continued, scanning the area with pale blue eyes, “another car will pass and give us a lift.” He smiled as a thought crossed his mind. “I know a place on the way where you might want to –”
Duffy’s head turned toward the sound, but he saw nothing – not even his friend. “Tanis?” he asked tentatively. “Where’d you go?”
“Down here, Duff…” The fennec’s words sounded far away.
The husky looked down toward the voice into the tall grass and then saw a dark hole in the ground he had missed seeing when the sunlight had momentarily blinded him. He crept closer and gazed down into the pit. It looked as if it was lined with bricks of clay and about ten feet across. He couldn’t see anything of Tanis in the shadows below but his large ears.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Tanis squinted up at the silhouette at the top of the well and said in a strained voice, “Give me a moment to find out.”
His sight adjusted quickly to the darkness of the hole. He was sprawled ungracefully on the ground at the bottom of what might have been a water well at one time, but there was no structure above ground. He was about twenty feet from where Duffy knelt beside the opening. The walls were old and crumbly, and pieces of brick littered the bottom. Weeds and roots sprouted from the moss-covered walls here and there and he could see a few coins scattered about in the four inches of water he sat in. His pants were soaked and damp leaves clung to what was left of his shirt.
Tanis tried to stand up, but a sharp twang shot through his ankle. He inhaled sharply as he stumbled into a curved wall and took his weight off the foot.
“Can you climb out?” Duffy called down to him.
“No, I don’t think so,” the fox answered, “Nothing’s broken, but I’ve twisted my ankle and the walls don’t look like they could hold my weight anyhow.”
Duffy stood up and looked around the small clearing into the trees. “I’m going to look for a vine or something to pull you out.”
“Go ahead,” Tanis muttered. “I’m not going anywhere.” He squatted as best as he could on his good foot and arranged some of the broken bricks into a pile that was large enough to sit on so he wouldn’t have to rest in the water. He flipped his tail to the side as he sat down and then leaned back against the slimy wall.
As he waited for Duffy to return, Tanis swished his right hand idly in the water. He thought about picking up some of coins, but decided he wasn’t going to be on Fyn long enough to spend them on anything — providing he got out of the hole and back to Rrowrnon in time to catch the Horizon before they left without him. He stirred up some of the sediments from the bottom and a gold gleam caught his eye. He reached into the water and then pulled out a fat golden disc a couple inches in diameter, attached to a thin silver chain.
He turned it over in his hand and looked at the raised symbols and designs adorning both sides. He couldn’t read the local language inscribed into its sides, so he decided it must be something someone lost while out roaming these woods. It looked like it might be a pocket watch, but he could find no cover to open on either face, so he surmised it was probably a pendant. He pulled up the edge of his tattered shirt and began to polish it with a smile. Whatever it was, he thought it might make a decent souvenir of his excursions on Fyn to take back with him.
Tanis raised the chain over his large ears and then pulled it down around his neck. The pendant rested against his chest and he fingered it absently as his mind moved onto other things. It took him a moment before he started to realize that the cool metal of the disc had grown warm and began to vibrate.
Duffy snorted to himself as he maneuvered an old wooden ladder through the underbrush. He had found a rotting, abandoned cabin not far in the direction they had originally been walking and discovered the long ladder leaning up against the structure. He thought it might be several feet too short to let Tanis climb all the way out of the pit, but figured if he could get the fox close enough to the top, he could lift him the rest of the way out.
He finally made it back to the clearing and as he neared the hole, he called down, “You’ll never guess what I just found!”
“Duffy!” shouted the voice of Tanis from the pit. The husky dropped the ladder expecting the worst, and fell to his knees. He peered over the lip of the well… and looked directly into the surprised eyes of his companion. With quiet astonishment, Duffy could feel his hackles rising as he witnessed the tan fox float magically out of the well. When Tanis was perhaps a foot above grass level, Duffy reached out, grabbed his friend and then pulled him to solid ground.
Tanis’ eyes were wide with fright and he scrambled to pull the chain of the pendant over his head and off his still-buoyant body. He started to toss the golden object back into the well, but Duffy snatched it out of his hand by the chain before he had the chance.
“What happened?” the husky wanted to know as the pendant started to sink to the end of its chain. He looked at it and then back to his friend who had settled to the ground.
Tanis cleared his throat and began smoothing down his fur. “I found this thing in the water down there,” he said shakily. “I thought I might keep it as a souvenir, but after I put it around my neck, I began to float up off the ground!”
Duffy held it up by the chain and inspected the inscriptions. “Is it magic?” Tanis asked him.
The husky looked at him, his pale blue eyes crinkled in amusement. “Magic?” he repeated. “No, it’s not magic, though it might have seemed so to some of the locals around here.”
“Then… what is it?”
“The inscription is written in Svelloc, a local language,” Duffy explained. “It says this is a levitation pendant, given by the gods in ages past.” As he spoke, he poked a claw into a seam into the mysterious design and gently pried the object apart into halves. Tanis looked close and suddenly felt foolish at what he saw inside.
“It’s a tiny anti-grav generator,” the husky said, “commonly used in luggage transports at space ports.”
“But… why put one inside a pendant and put that ridiculous inscription on it?”
Duffy shook his head. “I’ve heard stories that before Fyn became a part of the PA, a few scoundrels landed here and tried to pass themselves off as being magical to the low-tech locals. This was probably one of their little devices.”
“Hmph…” Tanis snorted. “I examined it closely while I was down in the well and never saw an on switch anywhere. What did I do to turn activate it?”
The husky looked at his friend and smiled. “I tinker a lot with gadgets up in my cabin and messed around with technology long before I settled here on Fyn,” he replied. “These generators are inert when kept cool, but are activated when a mild current is applied to warm it up. After lying in cool water for so long down in that well, your body heat probably activated it.”
Tanis nodded and said, “That makes sense.” He took the pendant from his friend and attached the chain to his belt loop so it would dangle at his side without coming in contact with his warm body. As he finished, he happened to glance at his watch. “If we don’t get on our way,” he said as he started moving away from the pit, “I’m never going to make it back to the Horizon in time – not that I really have a chance getting there on foo—oof!” Tanis stumbled over something in the grass and fell face first once again. He grumbled a list of obscenities in several languages as he slowly pulled himself back up to his hands and knees. “What did I trip over this time?”
Duffy chuckled and pointed to a small sign at the fox’s feet that had been long covered over by weeds. “That was the Well of Luck you fell into, Tanis,” he told him. “A local wishing well.”
The tan fox stared wearily at the sign for a moment and then slowly stood up. He wasn’t usually so clumsy, but after the car wreck and the dense foliage they’d had to hike through, he was fairly exhausted. He turned without a word and limped out of the clearing in the direction they had originally been traveling.
Duffy started out after him and kept quiet until they passed the old cabin where he had found the ladder. The shadows didn’t seem as dark up ahead, but that didn’t seem to matter to the pair. The husky knew his friend was in a bad mood from all of this, so he smiled and tried to cheer him up.
“Falling into the Well of Luck should make you lucky,” he said, “or so the local legends say.”
Tanis turned and gifted him with a cold stare as they pressed on through the dense brush “Yer car broke down and we’ve had to walk miles to get this far,” he said in a hoarse voice. “I’ve fallen twenty feet into a dank, damp well and I’m now limping on a sore ankle, lost in a forest without the benefit of a crutch. I’m wet, bruised, tired and very unhappy at the moment — and I’m probably not going to make it back to my ship in time to leave this wretched place.” He heaved an audible sigh and added, “I don’t feel very lucky!”
Duffy was about to say something else when the tan fox broke through the edge of the forest brush and tumbled down a small embankment. There was the sound of screeching tires and then startled voices. The husky’s face lit up in surprise to see that Tanis had fallen down an embankment onto a small paved road. From the scene before him, a convertible ground car full of females in summer outfits had stopped scant inches from running over his poor friend.
The women of varying species gathered around the dazed tan fox, helping him to his feet. They brushed the dirt and leaves from his tattered clothing, chattering excitedly to him and to each other. Several ran up to Duffy as he made his way down the embankment.
Duffy introduced him and his friend, and after he explained what had happened to them, the women were sympathetic. A rather chesty squirrel who had been driving the large car smiled at the males and said, “I’m Tammy, and my friends and I are on our way to a swimsuit competition in Rrowrnon. You’re welcome to ride with us.”
Duffy gave her his best smile and nodded. “Thank you, Tammy. My rather beat up companion is late getting back to his ship at the spaceport. Do you think you could take us there?”
“That’s down the street from where the competition is being held,” a nicely shaped collie told him. “We can take him right to the terminal.”
“That’s wonderful…” Tanis gasped as two of the ladies lifted his arms over their shoulders and helped him to the car. Everyone piled into the vehicle, putting Tanis in the front seat and Duffy in the back, each accompanied by lovely ladies. Tammy put the car into motion and accelerated to a fast rate. It didn’t take long before they passed over the top of the hill and saw a large city in the distance.
An Irish setter leaned up close to Duffy and gazed into his pale blue eyes. “What about you, handsome?” she asked in a sultry voice. “Where can we take you after we drop off your friend?”
Duffy felt someone behind him pick twigs from his fur and then start to groom his tail with a soft bristled brush. He smiled and replied, “I just need to find a place for the night before I try to make my way back home. I’m a local.”
“You’re in luck,” a small red fox told him with a flutter of long eyelashes. “We’re all staying in a suite of rooms at the Harvee Hotel. You can stay with us!”
He swallowed and gave her a big grin. “That’s lucky, all right,” he said. He leaned forward so that he could whisper quietly to his friend. Tanis smiled contentedly as the collie beside him slowly stroked his large ears when he heard his friend ask, “What was that you said back there about luck?”
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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.