The Flying Neko - 1. A New World
Lian sat next to Itumak, watching the planet fall away from the shuttle. He was grateful to be leaving the world behind, and he knew Itumak felt the same way. The Egaro may love Gaia, with its towering mountains, but Itumak had constantly complained about having to fly around the snowy peaks.
His red fingers closed around the necklace against his chest. Two years with the neko, two years of love and trust. And still he had a hard time being with Itumak in public. For so long, Lian had been a slave. And his mind seemed stuck in that mindset sometimes. Like now, as he stared at Itumak out of the corner of his eye. The neko was beautiful, white hair framing a face tanned by multiple stars, topaz eyes staring out the shuttle window. Lian loved this being, but he couldn’t even say it out loud. Not here, not where others would hear.
A hand tapped his gently, tap tap tap. He responded instantly, copying the taps back on Itumak’s hand. Smiling slightly, the Daknar settled back into his seat. It was a code they had made a year ago, a silent way to say, I love you.
Itumak’s tan tail flicked against Lian’s scaly leg. He knew. Lian had no idea how the neko knew when he needed that silent reassurance, but he always seemed to get it when he needed it most.
“Our first alien planet!” a brown-furred Egaro exclaimed, squeezing past the two with her friend.
“Chloe, it’s not exactly alien,” her friend sighed.
“Oh come on Pan, don’t ruin this for me…”
Itumak pulled his tablet out, setting it between him and Lian as pictures of ships appeared on it.
“So what are you thinking we’ll get?” he asked quietly.
Lian looked at the tablet, the ships looking shiny and new.
“Do you think they’ll give us a new ship?”
“Gods no,” Itumak chuckled. “It will be a stripped down piece of junk. But what kind of junk? Egaran? Xanar? Do you think they’ll try to shove us in a Faro ship?”
“I like this black one,” Lian said, pointing.
“That’s a fighter. See the guns?” Itumak asked, enlarging the screen. “We might be able to add one to the ship we get, but I wouldn’t count on it. And maybe we can add some paint to the outside…”
Lian listened to the two-soul plan out the changes to their new ship. He was happy for Itumak; the neko had worked hard to get where he was.
But, as his hand moved from his necklace to the dual-coloured stone embedded in his chest, Lian felt the absence of the other part of his soul. It had been over two years since he had last seen Thaelin, had last held her in his arms. In that time, he had slowly given up hope of seeing her again. It still hurt to be reminded of her every day.
A heavy hand grabbed Lian’s left wing, nearly tearing it as the Daknar was yanked out of his seat.
“You got some nerve trying to flee on a fleet vessel,” a voice growled behind him.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Itumak demanded, standing instantly.
“This creature was staring at your tablet. Probably an escaped slave planning to rob you blind.”
Lian let out a pained hiss as the hand twisted, his wing bending in ways it was never meant to.
“This Daknar is my mate. I suggest you remove your hand from him or you will lose it,” Itumak snarled.
Lian was shoved forward, bouncing off the window in front of them. Looking up from the ground, the Daknar saw a Xanar strolling away as if nothing had happened, an orange bracer on his arm.
Itumak extended a hand to his mate, helping him back to his feet.
“No,” Itumak said sharply. “You have no reason to be sorry. This was not your fault at all.”
Lian sat back in his seat gingerly, wincing at a jolt of pain that ran into his back from his wing.
“Can I help your wing at all?” Itumak asked.
Lian shook his head silently. The pain would go away. It always did.
A finger tapped against his leg, three taps. Smiling painfully, Lian replied.
I love you.
Itumak wrinkled his nose at the scent of drying fish and salty water. This was not the most welcoming arrival to a planet, that was for sure. But they were here, and they would be staying here for a while.
The neko poked at his bangle, trying to find the planetary map he had downloaded from the shuttle. At least, he thought he had downloaded it.
“Ugh, why can’t these things be voice operated?” he sighed.
A small beam appeared, growing into a miniature globe of the planet that then zoomed in on an island, a small red dot showing Itumak’s spot. He found a rune indicating a fleet office nearby, and the neko took Lian’s hand, walking toward the office.
Twenty minutes later, Itumak and Lian were standing before a gold Egaro with a blue bracer, the tiger studying them with interest.
“It is not often a corporal of the IEFL comes already attached to someone,” the Egaro said. “You might be interested to know there is some discussion about the two of you. Many believe your… mate... should not be allowed among the Alliance ships.”
“I can vouch for Lian, Commander,” Itumak said.
“I understand he was in fact a slave at one point.”
“He was, but is no longer.”
The Egaro let out a quiet grunt.
“That is good. Report to Lieutenant Zoe. She will assign you your ship. When you are ready to take off, tell either myself or Zoe, and we will see to your promotion.”
“Thank you Commander,” Itumak saluted.
They left the office, Lian following the neko silently. Itumak was used to his silence. The Daknar rarely spoke unless he needed to. Itumak had tried to break him of that habit, but it was one of those things that stuck. He had changed very little in the two years they had been together, though Itumak was happy to see tiny black nubs beginning to sprout from Lian’s head. He had heard that the Daknar took great pride in their horns. Lian’s had been removed when he had been bought, but finally it looked like they were returning.
Following a sandy road across the island, Itumak located the barracks with ease. He had learned on Gaia that the barracks cost a hundred credits a month to use. Not much by any means, but then, Itumak felt he was dirt poor. And fixing up his ship would only make that worse. Though that really depended on what kind of ship he got.
Speaking of ships…
The neko spotted a workshop type area on another island, three ships sitting outside it. That seemed like the perfect place to find the Lieutenant.
Crossing a bridge, Itumak sighed as a boat sped past, dousing him and Lian in water. They were certainly going to be wet on this planet.
An Egaro stood outside the workshop, biting voraciously into a filleted fish. She wore a sleeveless shirt that hugged her body, her curves visible even with the thick black coat of fur. Tan pants protected her modesty, a tail flicking through a small hole in annoyance. Itumak understood that look well, the look of a superior officer upset at their subordinates.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant Zoe?" he asked cautiously.
"Yeah, what of it?"
"I was told you'd assign me my ship."
"Huh. Rough luck. All we have is a freighter and a fighter. Fighter is stripped, freighter never had much to start with."
"How old is the fighter?" Itumak questioned.
"About fifty years. The freighter is older, but both are serviceable. I looked them over myself about a year ago. If I were you, I'd take the freighter. It's only five thousand tonnes, but the fighter is tiny. I swear it was designed for Faro..."
"How much are they?"
The last thing the neko wanted was to be in debt for the rest of his life. Hopefully, he'd be able to fit a mining laser to the ship he got and go farm an asteroid belt. He'd heard that the belts in Asla were usually pretty profitable.
"Seven fifty for the fighter, six hundred for the freighter."
That settled it for him.
"I'll go with the freighter."
"Fine. Let me finish my supper and I'll get your ship moved to pad five."
An hour later, Itumak and Lian stood watching a giant ship being moved by a team of Egaro and Xanar cadets. Itumak's ship. Lian remembered the day the neko had come to their apartment exhausted from moving a ship on the Xanar world. He said it wasn't hard to move the ship; they just turned on the anti-gravity pads on the ship's feet and pushed. The hard part was stopping the ship once it was in motion.
And now the Daknar had a chance to see that for himself. Nearly the entire group of ten cadets had to work together to stop the ship on the pad, standing around the feet of the craft to catch it. Lian almost wanted to join the group and help, but no, his place was with his soul, with his neko.
A Xanar tripped over his own feet, the ship lurching momentarily. Itumak leapt toward the group, his body joining theirs in an attempt to re-balance the ship. Lian hurried after him, uncertain of what he should do. The ship slowed to a stop, everyone letting out a sigh of relief.
The gravity was restored to the ship, feet settling heavily onto the ground. Lieutenant Zoe and Itumak exchanged prints, officially making the ship the neko's. The first thing the neko did was add Lian's print to the ship.
"Well, let's see what we're working with," Itumak said, motioning for the Daknar to walk ahead of him.
Tucking his wings in behind him, the Daknar walked up a long ramp, entering the dark interior of the ship. Itumak followed, a light shining from his bangle. The sound of their feet echoed through the ship, metallic and hollow.
"Okay, where are the lights?" Itumak muttered, his bangle shining around them.
A switch was flipped, the sound of grinding piercing the interior of the ship as window covers rolled up, letting in the light of the outside world. The ship really was gutted, nothing but an empty husk with rust staining some of the walls.
"I suppose that works," Itumak frowned, looking up where lighting strips were lining the walls, inactive.
Those would need to be replaced. The neko pulled out his tablet, making a note. Together he and Lian walked through the ship, the Daknar making quiet suggestions on items that would help clean the ship up. The ship was enormous, most of it a hall twice the size of the palace guard barracks on Astara. Climbing a flight of stairs, the two flinched at the sound of complaining metal.
"We'll need a bed," Itumak added as they walked through a wide hall with five small cabins on either side.
"The bigger cabin is just ahead, right?" Lian asked.
"Yeah," Itumak replied. "Did you want to do something in there?"
Lian's face took on a blue hue, and Itumak chuckled. He had made the Daknar blush.
"I don't think we should until we get this place a little cleaner," the neko added, opening the door to the captain's cabin.
The smell of rust hit them, Itumak wrinkling his nose. Light flooded the room, allowing the two to see the mess of cobwebs and dust that was the empty cabin.
"Well, I think I know where we're starting," Itumak said, wincing as a giant bug flew past his head. "We have a lot of work ahead of us..."
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