Table of Contents
Lost Waters - Chapter 7
"It's been a month, Landry. What
kind of techs did you bring on that hulk of yours?" Tara masked her
annoyance behind a half-smile. The Dark Hope had to be not only ready
to make a fast run back toward the jump gate to close it, but also to
return and unload the last of the vital supplies to the rapidly evolving
human and Arrallin colony. Landry's angular features tensed momentarily,
and loosened into a toothy, sly grin. He's going to ask for something.
I know that look.
"Well, fearless leader, if I could
be so bold as to borrow a tech or two from the more spaceworthy Singularity
II, I can have this entire problem straightened in a matter of days. The
majority of the engineering betas are on the Singularity II, whereas I
got the dubious honor of carting the gate-crasher. Useful though it will
be, that piece of equipment is doing nothing for this aging ship. I need
staff, Tara, regardless of the risk."
Landry scratched at his clean-shaven scalp,
frowning as the stubble rasped under his roughened fingers. Turning, he
tapped on a monitor behind him, outlining the cross section of the engineering
bay of the ship. Red indicators showed a plethora of failing systems.
"I've been over the engineering roster for the Singularity II. Kiralla,
Malry, and Linaro, just those three, should be able to set my beta team
straight and get us ready for the gate closing." He held up his hands
Tara caught her breath, and scrutinized
Landry closely. Kiralla was the best engineer on the Singularity II, that
was true, and was a logical choice for this assignment, but she was also
the only unmated Alpha Arrallin female in the entire fleet. She was Rakal's
only hope for founding a new hive in the next twenty years. On Landry's
ship, she'd be dangerously isolated from members of the Arrallin Insurrection
on the Singularity II. Landry was an independent operator brought in only
because he had a gate crasher. Landry's participation in the mission had
been ratified by a vote of five to four when the inner circle of the Insurrection
team met to decide on how to deal with the gate, and tensions about him
ran high in every meeting.
Emotions struggled inside Tara, but she
looked over the data file with a practiced nonchalance. She quelled a
spike of fearsome jealousy for the beautiful, intelligent Kiralla, destined
to take a place in history beside Rakal, but she knew her duty lay far
beyond her personal wants and needs. Kiralla and Rakal were both desperately
needed to give a wider genetic base to the new Hives. All of the Arrallin
species may depend on the decision she made at this moment.
Crushing all her personal feelings, she
assessed Landry. He was a known 'furvert', preferring Arrallin furries
for his passions over humans. He treated them like animals, or worse.
Beta murders, especially ones related to sex, were rarely pursued by Earth
authorities, but Landry had been brought to trial twice. To his credit,
he was acquitted twice, but his violence was legendary among the Beta
Kiralla was, despite her beta disguise,
a rare beauty. As an alpha she was naturally strong willed, even when
acting her beta part. His purpose in requesting her transfer could be
libidinous, as much as a request of necessity. Could he know that she
was indeed an Alpha female, close to her season? How far did his obsession
go, and how much information did he have? He had accepted a fairly low
fee to take on the risky job of jumping through and crashing the gate.
Members of the inner circle were wagering that he wouldn't in fact go
through the gate, just close it down and return to join the colony as
the proud leader of his own personal Arrallin harem, without the rules
of earthly propriety to bind him. He had been lead to believe that they
were all in this project to dodge criminal problems back on Earth, and
as far as she knew, he had no idea that the ships carried three mated
pairs, as well as the two unmated Arrallin Alphas, Kiralla and Rakal.
They had all been carefully disguised.
Tingles of sweat dripped down Tara's back
as she returned Landry's awaiting gaze in the view screen. Consciously,
she controlled her tone of voice, maintaining the distracted tone she
had had all through their conversation. "Three's fine, Landry. The
other ships are operating well — Dark Hope is the biggest system failure
risk, and it's just too important to leave to an inexperienced engineering
crew. Be sure to get them back aboard the Singularity II as soon as the
repairs are done, though. I want as many of the engineers down here to
work on the colony, and the Arralla's Pride will be making the second
shuttle run in two weeks. The weather down here is going to get really
wet soon, and we need the best structures we can manage." She looked
down, pretending to scrutinize a colony structure report with frustration.
"Thank you, Tara. I'll have this ship
as good as new in no time." His smug smile made a knot form in Tara's
belly. "I don't envy you down there. Looks like a real jungle. I
thought Gates City was bad." He laughed at his own weak joke, and
Tara managed a completely contrived smile. "Landry out."
His face faded away on the screen, a menacing
visage as the shadows darkened and grew until the screen was a flat black.
The screen faded in an instant, but to Tara, it felt like an hour. A feeling
of foreboding, as strong as her combat instincts from Earth Command training,
flooded into her, along with a sense of both danger and power, but not
from above. It was from the east, where the troubled Mulkol Barryd lay.
"Tara, you're getting soft in the head. The Telkans can take care
of their own." She muttered and turned to look to the east, seeing
for a fleeting instant a radiant orange glow across the hillside. Looking
toward Ekal and Telka, the sky glowed a yellow-green along the tree line,
brightest along the mountain pass that lead toward the regions to the
north. As soon as the light had appeared, it vanished, leaving her with
a momentary longing to head north.
Tarrin, the psi from the Arralla's Pride,
and Rakal strode up on their hind legs. "So, Tara, how goes operations
up above?" Rakal rumbled in his deep alpha voice. He made no effort
to disguise himself in actions, but maintained the black coat and thinned
mane for safety.
"Did you see that light? Did you hear
those sounds just now?" Tara looked from Rakal and then to Tarrin
and back, leaning against the communications console.
"Um...no, Tara. When was the last
time you slept?" Rakal's concern was plainly evident. "You're
going to sleep NOW, Tara. You look like one of those floppy eared morraks
the Dimar seem so fond of."
Tarrin signaled Mason over, and he instantly
surmised the situation. "Don't worry, Tar — I'll wake you if anything
interesting happens. I hear that the Dimar are finishing council talks
to decide whether or not we will be welcomed here. I'll wake you as soon
as the report comes back from the north." Mason picked up the duty
roster and leafed through screen after screen. "No problem. This
thing's so organized even Tarrin here could run the details, eh Tarrin?"
He grinned good-naturedly to the beta Talent, who snorted with mock indignance.
"Mason, Rakal — I'm leaving things
in your hands. I do need the rest." Tara shot a worried glance at
the duty roster screen on the console, as Kiralla and the other engineers
registered as transferred to the Dark Hope. "First, I want to let
you all know that Landry requested three engineers to work on the Dark
Hope. It's having significant engine problems and we need it ready to
go as soon as that Dimar council gets out and decides whether or not we
can stay. That gate crasher is key to the success of this operation. We
wouldn't survive a day against an Earth Command contingent sent through
the jump gate." Nervously she looked up at Rakal, who was already
scanning the transfer logs.
"Kiralla's gone over." His voice
was monotone, but the fur along his neck rose to its full height. "Was
there no way to avoid that?"
"Not without giving Landry a possible
hint that he was onto something. He's been prying around personnel records
since the start and I didn't want to give him any sign that we might have
Alphas aboard." Tara knew that her decision had been based on rational
thought, and probably would have been the decision made by Mason, Tarrin,
or any of the other Arrallin Insurrection leaders, but the guilt gnawed
at the back of her mind.
Rakal turned toward Tara, his eyes searching
her face. Slowly, he nodded with agreement. "It's been fifteen years
that we've been in hiding, and not one human, not even members of the
Earth Command, have cracked our cover. Landry will not be a problem. You
being a walking shadow of yourself — that is a problem." His hackles
lowered as he turned to guide Tara toward her tent.
Tara smiled, almost shyly at Rakal as they
walked toward her tent away from the crowd. In a hoarse whisper, she tried
to explain. "Look, Rakal — I...I didn't want to risk her, but if
he suspected that she was...well, from what we know, he probably would
have gone aboard and kidnapped her. You know of my species dark affinity
for the young Alpha females..."
Rakal interrupted quickly, wincing with
pain. "Don't. I know...I know all too well. You would never jeopardize
this movement or..."
"Or your happiness, Rakal." Tara
uttered with more emotion than she had wanted. She gazed into his face,
studying the graceful lines of his muzzle, and the sheen of his jet black
fur. His eyes, violet through the disguise coloring, were clouded with
pity for her.
With a flash of indignance, she turned
and strode into her tent to get some much needed rest.
It seemed that she had only just fallen
asleep when Mason came charging in. "Word's back from the north,
sir! You're not going to believe this."