LOST IN THE WILDERNESS
— by Ted R. Blasingame
The final day on Earth had come at last for Second Chance. The livestock they had been raising on the grounds of the Institute had been shipped out two days before to join more being put into cryogenic sleep for the journey to Bonestell. The Furs, however, would not be joining them just yet. As standard practice with the Terran Colonization Coalition and the Anthro Human Colonization Program, they would be ferried up to Space Station Sebra to board the colony ship in orbit.
Wayne Mooreland and Tom Williams were back at the Institute, having brought their antiquated Osprey in to ferry the Furs on a short half-hour flight down to the Albany International Airport. However, there were now more Furs than seats in their plane, so a second aircraft was on loan from the U.S. Navy to help take them all to Albany. Instead of flying them down to Jacksonville, Florida as they had done before, a Boeing 827 had been reserved to take them in one load directly to Spaceport America in Las Cruces, New Mexico for their lift up to Sebra.
Unfortunately, as large as the SS Branson had been to take the Class Sixteen group up to the orbital space station in one load, the massive space plane was not big enough to take all thirty-one Furs at once. The plan was to send the Class Fifteen Furs up first. Once there, they would have a full day and a half to learn to maneuver in a zero-gee environment before the spatially-experienced Class Sixteen group joined them on another flight up. Once they were reunited, it would be another two days before the fully supplied colony ship lifted off from the Earth to dock with Sebra.
“It's too bad you aren't coming up to Sebra with us this time,” Jon said to Marcy as he gave the platinum blonde nurse a warm farewell hug. They were near the sunken pit in the middle of the Felis Wing saloon. “I'm going to miss you and your knockout spice tea on the flight up.”
“Distributing the tea will be my job this time,” Jenni remarked from his side, screwing up her feline face in distaste. “I don’t handle flying very well and could use some of the sedative myself – only I'm not allowed to have any since Ken and I have to be conscious in case there's any medical trouble on the flight!”
“You'll be fine,” Marcy reassured her, taking her hands in her own. “Just don't look out any of the windows until you get there.”
“That won't be easy,” Jenni complained. “There are windows all around that thing; no matter which direction I look, there will be a window.”
“Thank you for taking such good care of us,” Kristen told Dr. Renwick, giving him a small lick on the cheek. “I don't know how well I could have made it through the process without your compassion and understanding.”
“You're welcome,” the doctor said with a smile. “Most of my clients don't really see me as the caring type, but I've always cared for each of them. Whether they are human or furman doesn't matter – I am a doctor and caring for others was my reason for getting into medicine.”
Jon turned to him and held out his hand paw. “I'm sorry for giving you so much grief,” he told the physician, “but I'm thankful you had immeasurable tolerance for this particular patient.”
Renwick took his hand and shook it warmly. “You aren't the first one to give me trouble, Jon, and despite what you think, you haven't been the most difficult, either. However, I know your circumstances were unique and I'm glad you made it through as well as you did.”
“Thanks to you both,” the mountain lion remarked with a slight bow of respect to the doctor and his nurse, something he'd picked up from the red pandas.
“Has anyone seen Sissy?” Kristen asked, looking around. “She was supposed to meet us here to say our goodbyes to you two.”
“I think she was trying to find someone to take her pet cat,” Jenni replied. “She wanted to bring him along, but Stockholm wouldn't authorize it as a necessary addition to the livestock.”
“Just as well,” Jon said. “Some alien predator on Bonestell might have trouble eating us larger cats, but her little housecat would probably be a delicacy there.”
“That's not a nice thing to say,” Sissy's voice said from the hallway. She was struggling with a pet carrier, and the kitty inside didn't look happy to be carted around inside of it. “I would have taken care of Jonesy.”
Marcy approached the smaller orange-striped Fur and held out her hands. “Give him to me, Sissy,” she said with a smile. “I'll look after him; maybe make him the Wing mascot.”
The feline woman set the carrier down on the floor gently and then jumped into Marcy's arms to hug her tightly, surprising the nurse.
“Oh, thank you!” Sissy exclaimed. “I know you'll take good care of my Jonesy!”
Jon's PBJ chirped at him and he pulled it from a pocket in surprise. He had never gotten mail through the device that didn't originate from someone at the Institute. He opened its clamshell case, tapped the application for mail and then smiled when he saw who had sent him a message. It was from Angel Lonergan, the little girl from the visiting school group.
“Ah, there you are!” said another voice. Everyone looked back at the hallway and saw Marcelo walking toward them. The swarthy director had a pleasant expression upon his face and he approached them with a set of business envelopes in one hand. “I have something for each of you.” The top envelope had Jenni's name on it; he handed this to her and then did the same with envelopes for Kristen, Jon and Sissy.
“What is this?” Jon asked curiously, putting away his PBJ; he would have to answer the little girl's message later. “Should we open them now or save them until after we've gone?”
“That's up to you,” the director answered. “It's merely a personal letter from me to each of you. I'm hoping it's something you can take with you to a new world to help remind you of your time with us. It's unlikely we'll ever see one another again, but you will never be forgotten.”
Jenni and Kristen both approached him and gifted him with a feline lick-kiss from each on the cheek. “We'll never forget you either, Marcelo,” Kristen told him with misty eyes.
“Never, ever,” Jenni added.
Sissy approached the director and slipped her arms up over his shoulders and around the back of his neck. She hugged him warmly and then gave him a tender human-style kiss right on the lips. “You've always been good to me,” she told him quietly, “and I've enjoyed working with you.”
Marcelo smiled. “You're going to be hard to replace,” he told her. “You're the most efficient management assistant I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. I'll probably never keep my calendar up to date without you.”
“One of the new girls in the Vulps Wing has experience along the same lines,” Sissy told him, wiping her eyes. “I'm sure you could make use of her talents. You should talk to her – her name's Cora.”
“Perhaps I will. Well, it's about time you all went to take your seats on the plane,” the director said, giving them all warm smiles. “You'll be leaving soon and your personal belongings have already been loaded.”
“Good luck and Godspeed,” Dr. Renwick said to the Furs as they turned to look at him and Marcy one last time.
“All the best,” Marcy said, giving them all a small wave.
Jenni, Kristen and Sissy all returned the wave and then turned to go. Jon held back and Marcelo looked over at him curiously. “Is something the matter?” he asked in a whisper.
The cougar gestured toward the chairs in front of the large video screen and the director followed him off to the side, letting the others go on ahead. The Felis physician recognized that Jon wanted a word in private with the director, so he said something quietly to his nurse and then the two of them walked outside to watch their Furs board the Osprey.
“Marcelo,” the mountain lion began in a low voice, “I just wanted to say thank you for giving me the chance to see a different life as a Fur. Even before I had my troubles, I would have never considered such an existence, but now that I've made it through the transformation, through my own anger and the fears, I'm actually looking forward to the adventures ahead. I've always been more or less in control of my own life, and this whole experience has been something new to me, but considering the alternative I faced last year, I'm grateful for this opportunity to explore a new life.”
Marcelo opened his mouth to respond, but Jon held up a hand paw and continued before he lost his nerve to say what he needed; he'd had a similar conversation earlier with Professor Flynn.
“I came to the Furmankind Institute with a huge chip on my shoulder, and I know you had a grudge against me for taking the life of another Fur you once knew. I've long regretted my actions, and although you've no doubt had plenty of opportunities to take your revenge upon me, I'm glad you gave me a chance.” He held out his hand toward the director and gave him a sincere smile. “I'm pleased to know that even though I'm part animal now, I've lost none of my humanity. Thank you, Marcelo.”
The director hesitated only briefly, mulling over the memory of their first meeting, but then he took Jon's proffered hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Henry's loss was a terrible blow to many of us here,” he said, “but I think even he would be proud of the furman you've become. It may be a long while before anything in your life can ever feel normal again, but I think you'll adapt just fine. Even though there may be many unknown dangers where you're going, Jon, I sincerely wish you well.”
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.