LOST IN THE WILDERNESS
— by Ted R. Blasingame
Two hundred fourteen miles below, the blue-green jewel that was Earth turned slowly. Jon floated beside the large observation window that had become his favorite spot during his previous visit to Space Station Sebra and contemplated the home world of all humanity. This was likely the last time he would ever see Mother Earth, so he drank in the sight of her, soaking up a lifetime of memories to take with him out among the stars.
“Remember only the good, none of the bad,” he whispered to himself.
A moment later, a pair of hands with fur that matched his grabbed onto the railing mounted to the wall below the window. “A penny for your thoughts,” Kristen said quietly.
Jon looked over at the mountain lioness with a soft smile. “I'm just contemplating our departure,” he told her. “I don't think some of our Furs really believe that we'll be leaving Earth forever, but I know that this is likely to be the last time I'll ever see her.”
“Our contract is only for five years. You don't think we'll be back – ever?”
“Five years is a long time to survive on an alien world where anything from a large predator down to a microbe could kill us,” he reminded her, “not to mention any number of natural disasters. Even for those of us who do happen to make it, I doubt the Earth will ever welcome us back as her children. Our class was the sixteenth they've transformed just at this location, which amounts to two hundred fifty-six Furs. Multiply that by four Institutes and that's over a thousand Furs they've created so far. Yes, they've lost some along the way like those on Bastien, but out of all those people, none of them have come back to Earth that I know of. I've not heard where any of them have gone after their initial five years, but it hasn't been back here. No, we'll either stay there on Bonestell to help those who come after us get used to their new world or we'll be sent to another planet to either start a new colony or replenish an existing one with fresh personnel.”
He reached up and brushed a stray strand of dark bangs from her forehead, giving her a wan smile. “When we depart tomorrow, planet Earth will become nothing more than a memory. Remember all the good things from your life, Kris, but none of the bad.”
“That's good advice,” said a new voice. The newcomer grasped the hand rail in a desperate grip for stability with a nervous chuckle.
Jon turned to the grizzly and looked up at the floating bear. Hiamovi Avonaco was one of the Furs who had never experienced weightlessness before this trip and he seemed to have more trouble than the rest of his Class getting around in it, likely due to his greater bulk.
“Do you plan to follow that good advice?” Jon asked with a wry smile. “You need to forget about that trip to Albany.”
Avon gazed back at him with a dark look and gently bit his bottom lip. “Yeah, I suppose I should,” he mumbled. “There was nothing there I want to remember. The capitol city was nice and all, but I wasn't treated well at all because I was a Fur.”
“I'm sorry you didn’t enjoy your trip,” Kristen said quietly. “As Jon said, try not to remember that experience, but always keep the good times you've had in your life and look forward to our big adventure instead.”
Avon gave her a nod. “I am looking forward to what's ahead, more than ever.” He looked over at Jon and remembered why he was there. “Listen, do you have a free minute? I have something I need to discuss with you.”
“I have nothing but free minutes right now,” the cougar replied. “What can I help you with?”
“You hit the nail right on the head, Jon,” the bear told him. “It's your help that I need.”
“Okay, go ahead.”
Avon glanced at Kristen. “Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere in private,” he said. The lioness looked back at him with a frown, but Jon shook his head. “Unless it's something you think will embarrass Kris, we can discuss it here.”
Avon nodded. “My apologies, Kristen. You're welcome to listen in.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“As you know, we'll be boarding our flight tomorrow, but before we depart I have to turn in my decision for selection of my First Officer.”
“I thought you only needed to just choose someone and it was done,” Jon mused. “I have administrative experience, but Sissy could probably help you fill out your documentation better than I can. My understanding is that she is going to be the colony secretary and historian anyway.”
Avon smiled, but shook his head. “I'm not asking you to help me with the documents, Jon. I would like you to be my Second.”
“You've told me that you've had past supervisory and managerial experience, which means you can lead others, and as you just reminded me, you also have administrative skills. The others look up to you and you don't back down if you're confronted. You'd be perfect for the job.”
Jon looked at him for a moment before a smile crept into his eyes. “I guess I shouldn't be surprised,” he quipped. “You've been trying for months to have me put in charge of a Felis colony.”
Kristen looked at him in surprise. “He has? You've never mentioned it.”
“That's because he keeps turning me down,” Avon explained. “How about it, Jon? You didn't want to be in charge, but that's my job now. You'll be there to help manage the colony with me, someone for others to go to if I'm not available or to help delegate what needs to be done.”
“Wouldn't it be better to choose Masanori as your Second?” Jon asked. “He's more qualified, having the experience of running an entire branch of the Furmankind Institute.”
Avon looked around at others floating in areas of the big room, but none were close by. He cleared his throat, lowered his head toward Jon and Kristen, and then replied in a whisper.
“I don't want him as my Second,” he admitted. “I don't know him all that well, but Dr. Mochizuki's used to running everything and I’m afraid that if he's placed even in a secondary position, he'll try to usurp my authority. Stockholm may have legally appointed me to my position over the colony, but once we're on another planet that may not have much influence if he has any level of authority.” He shook his head. “No, I would prefer someone I already know serving with me, even if that person has been an occasional troublemaker.” He said this last with a smile, making Jon laugh aloud. Kristen simply stared back at the grizzly as if he'd lost his mind for saying such a thing.
Jon shook his head. “What about Carl? He's not a troublemaker and has more life experiences than I do.”
Avon looked at him glumly. “You really don't want the job, do you?” he asked. “Carl's a good man… er, wolfman, but I still think you're the most qualified. I'm begging you, Jon – I'd get down on my knees if we had a floor I could stay down on!”
Jon turned aside to Kristen and she saw his look of amusement. He gave her a wink that Avon couldn't see and then faced the grizzly again.
“Well, it looks like begging is the only way to get me involved in a leadership position of a colony,” Jon said with a grin. “Because I’d hate to see a grown bear cry, I'll do it.”
Avon looked greatly relieved. He held out his massive hand paw and Jon shook it firmly. “Thanks, Jon,” he said. “I really appreciate this!” He looked over at Kristen and gave her an embarrassed look. “This is why I didn't want to do this in front of you,” he told her with an embellished sigh. “I knew he was going to make me beg!”
The lioness laughed and put a hand on his arm. “You're lucky. I don't think he really made you grovel all that much,” she told him with a grin. “You may regret it later, because I'm sure he has it in him to make you pay for putting this responsibility upon him.”
Avon looked back at Jon, who merely peered back at him with a mischievous smile. The bear knew he was being teased, but he swallowed hard anyway. Jon finally shook his head and gently punched the grizzly's arm.
“So what now?” he asked. “Do we find someone with a sword to appoint me into knighthood or something?”
“Now I go find Sissy to help me with the documentation,” Avon replied with a grin. “I don't even need your signature, just your cooperation.”
“You've got it.”
“Thanks. Once I get this filed through official channels, I'll have Sissy inform everyone with her Daily News message that you've been certified as my second in command, and then we can get together so I can start prepping you with all the rules, regulations, colony bylaws and even a few secret commandments that only you and I will know about.”
“That sounds covert,” Kristen whispered.
“Of course, you realize I'm only joking,” Avon said with a grin. “There are no secret agendas.”
“Of course you aren't!” the mountain lion quipped.
“Right… Thanks again, Jon. I'll find you later so we can get started.”
“I can hardly wait,” the cougar replied with a smirk. Avon gave them both a nod and then pushed off from the railing, hoping he'd given himself enough momentum to reach the other side of the room where Sissy was laughing with the Fleur trio.
After he'd gone, Kristen looked at Jon and noted the expression on his face had changed. “What's the matter?” she asked.
Keeping his voice down, he shrugged and told her, “I was just considering the irony of having someone who used to hate Furs now partially in charge over a whole colony of them.”
“You don't hate Furs anymore, right?”
“That's right, I don't.”
She gave him a warm smile. “Then there's no problem, only the irony.”
“You and Jenni are the only ones in Second Chance aware of that irony, y'know.”
Kristen put a finger up to her lips and smiled. “It will be our little secret, something from your past you'll never have to worry about again. That will be one of the bad memories we'll leave behind on Earth.”
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.