The sun set as the girls sailed between several uncharted islands, mostly small spits of land. The area was dotted with lots of tiny islands where they were, nothing massive. Zarra had been gone awhile exploring the depths, but Brie had given her a waterproof satchel to carry starfruit, and anything else of interest she might have found so it was likely she was just doing her thing.
Hailey yawned. She had lookout shift while everyone else rested, but so far all she saw was the faint haze of twilight. She thought she saw something - or rather someone - out of the corner of her eye, a silhouette on a small island shore. Zarra splashed out of the water and up onto the ship, and when Hailey looked back, whatever she thought she had seen was gone.
“Sorry I was gone for so long,” Zarra said. “I was searching for more black glass and metal boxes.”
“Oh that’s fi- wait, metal boxes?” Hailey asked.
“Yes,” Zarra said as she reached into her satchel. “I found one, and thought there might be more. It definitely isn’t natural,” she said, as she pulled out a waterlogged iPad and offered it to Hailey. “Black glass on the front, with a metal back,” she said.
“Oh holy cow!” Hailey laughed, “This is an iPad.”
She ran down below deck, grabbing a small bucket and a bag of rice, with Zarra following curiously behind. She filled the bucket halfway, placed the iPad inside, and then covered it.
“Oh, I see,” Zarra said. “You’re dehydrating it?”
Hailey nodded. “Salt or sand would get inside of it, but rice kernels are too big. With any luck, it should still function. It’s a computer device, like Brie’s portable scanner,” she added. Zarra nodded.
She didn’t understand how Brie’s portable scanner worked, but she understood that it was high technology at least, and respected that high technology as a human respects a brown bear, which was to say she kept a respectable distance at all times, and kept track of her digits in the process.
“Our technology is mechanical,” Zarra replied. “Steam, clockwork, or combustion. I’ve never seen devices like what you and Brie use.”
“We can teach you.” Hailey answered. “It’ll probably be more common place soon on this world, so it might be good to learn.” She looked up at Zarra. “By the way you said you were here almost three weeks. Have you or the others noticed anything different about yourselves?”
Zarra shook her head, “Not really.”
“The ocean water here has strange properties,” Hailey said. “Healing and mutagenic. Like we said to those Furren girls this morning, Wendy and I used to be finless. The water changed us - not that we’re complaining. For others, the changes are more subtle. Ella’s gotten much stronger for example.”
“We’ve been more worried about finding others and food to really notice anything.” Zarra shrugged. “We did notice the water was sweet. There’s no salt in it at all, and it makes the starfruit even sweeter.”
That seemed to remind her that she had a fresh crop of it now, and she took one out of the satchel. She poked one fingernail just below the surface, dragged it along vertically, and the melon-like fruit split right in half. She offered half to Hailey as she bit into the other half, sucking up the juices.
Hailey smiled and took a bite. As the juice dribbled down her chin, she moved her hand to catch it, and in raising her head, spotted a slightly larger island they were approaching. “Rebecca! Land Ho!” She slurped down some more juice and bit into the soft fruity flesh. “Oh this is delicious.”
Zarra giggled. “It’s packed with nutrients, but it’s normally hard to cultivate.”
Rebecca came up the stairs with a solar lantern, her hair a mess, “Thanks for waking me,” she laughed. “No offense, but I don’t trust anyone else with landings.”
“None taken,” Hailey laughed too. “There’s two other things,” she said, pointing to the rice bucket. “Zarra found an iPad in the depths, for one.”
“Are you shitting me?” Rebecca asked.
“Nope. It looks like mine too.” Hailey laughed.
“I found it on a small outcropping, right next to a lone starfruit vine,” Zarra nodded.
“That’s fantastic,” Rebecca said. “So what was the other thing?”
“The other thing was probably nothing, but you told me to report anything unusual. Just before Zarra came back, I swear I thought I saw someone out of the corner of my eye on one of the tiny islands, but when I looked back, there was literally nothing there. Just sand and ocean, and nowhere they could’ve gone, so I didn’t wake you for it.”
Rebecca nodded as she took the wheel, “Thanks. I'll put that in my notes.” she said as she beached the boat, “All hands on deck!” she called out. There was a large bell by the wheel. Inside the bell the clapper had a little hook to rest on, so that it wasn’t ringing relentlessly every time the ship moved. She unhooked it and grabbed the rope that dangled down, ringing it loudly.
“Agh!” Brie could be heard groaning somewhere below deck, followed by a loud thump. A few seconds later she stumbled onto the deck, yawning. “Thank you, Rebecca. I was having a horrible nightmare and couldn’t wake up,” she said honestly.
Ella, Wendy and Karen soon followed. Rebecca grinned. “Glad to be of service. Sorry for waking you guys, but we’ve got a large landmass here. Wendy and Hailey are our resident Survival Experts, so I’m going to send you both in first. Do not go too far in, but I want you to do some preliminary scouting.”
“Roger roger,” Wendy said with a slight giggle as Hailey took out her phone.
“Don’t call me Roger.” Rebecca grinned.
“Testing, testing, 1 2 3,” Hailey said.
“I hear you,” Candy laughed as she came on deck now.
“Ok, once you two do your base scouting report back to the beach, We’ll wait for you here.” Rebecca smiled.
“Rebecca Rebecca,” Hailey said with a giggle, jumping off the ship before Rebecca could swat her.
“Uh,” Wendy said as she jumped off after Hailey. “What’s with the bucket of rice? You drop your phone in the water again?”
“Nope, Zarra found an iPad.” Hailey laughed. “I'll go right you go left?”
“OHMYGOD sweet!” Wendy squealed excitedly, cleared her throat, and then nodded. “Be careful.”
“You too.” Hailey nodded as she took off to the right and into the woods without a lantern because Furren had naturally keen night vision. The trees were dense, and there seemed to be a trail to follow. Some short distance in, Hailey was meet with a large Warehouse, that had the radioshack logo on it.
“Oh my God guys,” she quickly radioed back. “You’re not going to freaking believe what I just found out here.”
“What? What is it?” Candy asked. “Animal, mineral or vegetable?”
“Mineral.” Hailey laughed, “I found the motherlode of finds.”
Wendy called back, “Holy crap I found a car factory.”
“Okay,” Hailey laughed, “I found the SECOND most motherlode of a find. I found a freaking Radio Shack warehouse, out in the ass crack middle of nowhere.”
“What’s a Radio Shack?” Candy asked. Hailey could hear Rebecca laugh as she explained.
“Ohh, neat!” Candy said.
“Hold on, I thought I saw someone,” Hailey said. “Going to run up to the roof and check.” She secured her phone and then, sizing up a nearby tree, ran up and grabbed it, and began to claw her way up. Once she reached the top, she ran out along a sturdy branch and leapt, rolling onto the roof. She looked around.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are... Haley’s gonna find you,” she sang, to the tune of “Pop goes the weasel” as she looked around. There was no one there, and nowhere for them to hide. Unless they jumped off; her mind had to be playing tricks on her again.
“Did you find another survivor?” Wendy radioed back.
“I thought I saw someone, but there’s no scent.” Hailey sighed, “Ok guys I’m going to go in.”
Rebecca called back, “Negative, both of you return to the beach.”
“On my way,” Wendy called back. “I snapped a few pictures.”
“Yeah, I’m on my way. Hey, Candy, how far can we fall and not get hurt?”
“I’m not setting your bones,” Candy teased her. “I’d say about two stories on soft ground. More if you’ve got a softer target. It’s all in the way your body flexes as you land and distributes the force throughout, but even we have our limits,” she giggled.
Hailey called back a second later, “Ok, cats do always land on all four of their feet.”
“Yes, well we also run faster on all fours too, but we don’t like to.” Candy giggled.
“Really?” Wendy called back. “Oh I have GOT to try that!”
“You should try climbing too,” Hailey called back. “Okay, going silent for a second while I figure out how the hell I’m getting back down.”
Hailey put away her phone again. She started to take a running position, thought about what Candy said, and took off in a dead sprint on all fours, using the extra momentum to carry her further off the roof. It was a good thing too because otherwise, she’d have narrowly missed latching onto the tree branch.
What she didn’t expect, was that her ability as a stardust blue furren kicked in, and she shifted forms to a large wild cat. It startled her enough that she lost her grip on the branch and fell, right onto the next branch. The branch creaked and groaned with the sudden application of force, but she managed to amble around into a better grip, scampering for the tree trunk.
“What the...” she said, in a voice somewhat her own, but with a guttural, primal growl underpinning it. “I... I did it!” she came barrelling out of the forest in her large cat form. Wendy looked up, let out a startled shriek, and sprinted for the deck of the ship by way of clawing her way right up the side.
Candy examined Hailey, “It’s Hailey! I recognize the markings anywhere, and her scent.”
“I did it!” Hailey giggled in her new voice as she danced around playfully on the beach, rolling over onto her back and wiggling the sand into her fur. “I don’t know how, but I did it!”
“Can you turn back?” Wendy asked looking over the edge of the boat now.
“Let’s see,” Hailey said as she got back on her feet again, shaking the sand off. She first tried to rear back on two legs. That did little more than make her look like a blue circus tiger - which admittedly, made Rebecca giggle. She sat down on her hind legs with her paws in front, and thought about it for a moment. As she was trying to think of something else she could try, her form began to shift again, until she was right back to her old self.
Luckily silvan cloth was a very stretchy material because Hailey’s clothes, albeit in need of just a bit of adjustment, were back where they belonged again. Wendy had by now cautiously climbed back out of the boat.
Hailey shook her head vigorously as she stood. “I wonder what else is on this island besides the two things we found.”
“No idea, but we need to vote on which one to go to first.” Rebecca said. “Then we’ll call it in.”
“Both have their merits,” Wendy nodded. “I saw some four-wheelers on the lot that we can use to explore the island faster, however I won’t lie, the thought of getting my paws on a laptop again has me squirming inside.”
“There’s also the fact that Hailey thought she saw someone at the warehouse,” Brie added. Hailey shook her head.
“No, that turned out to be nothing. There were no signs, no scent, and if they had jumped off, which had to be at least four stories by the way, I would’ve heard them hit the ground. I’m going to check myself into the clinic when we get back because that’s twice.”
“I wouldn’t stress over it. This planet takes some getting used to. The first year I was here, I kept hearing things too,” Rebecca said, giving little more explanation than that.
Ella nodded. “I still see ghost ships from time to time when I’m on watch alone. My vote is for the factory. Faster transportation will allow us to get to the warehouse more quickly, as well as any other interesting locations on the island.”
The others cast their votes, mostly favoring Ella’s logic, or in Zarra’s case remained undecided and neutral.
“Zarra?” Rebecca asked.
“Yes ma’am?” Zarra answered.
“You get a say too,” she said. Zarra looked at her like she was speaking another language.
“Excuse me?” Zarra asked, confused.
“On my ship, we’re a democracy,” Rebecca laughed. “Everyone’s voice matters.”
Zarra blinked a few times, quietly nodding. “I see. I’m afraid I have no input to offer.”
“You have a lot to learn, but we'll count that as a neutral vote.”
“I’m sorry,” Zarra said. “My people are an absolute monarchy. As bodyguards we advise the Princess on matters of her personal security, but even then, she has the final word on all decisions.”
“That’s not how our society works here. We have a governing body, and we all vote, and all peoples vote matters.” Rebecca said. “We value everyone's opinions.”
“That will... take much getting used to. But the Princess will love it,” she added with a slight giggle. “For what it is worth then, I believe Ella’s plan seems sound. Ordinarily I would be concerned with noise attracting unwanted attention, but I have seen how you seek out others, and imagine that there is no unwanted attention, in this case.”
Karen couldn’t help giggling a little. “Ella, I think we just found you a new best friend”
Ella laughed. “I’m a guard too, of sorts, among my people,” she explained. “We’re peacekeepers and mediators.”
“Base, this is the Victory,” Rebecca radioed back.
“Go ahead Rebecca. What is your status?”
“Condition green,” Rebecca called back. “We’ve landed on a large island. We can’t see where the beach ends from here. We’ve located two structures that we’re going to investigate - an automobile factory, and an Earth electronics warehouse.”
“Did you say an automobile factory AND an electronic warehouse?” the woman radioed back.
“Yes ma’am.” Rebecca answered.
“That just got the science lab buzzing.” The woman laughed.
As the group began to travel towards the car factory, Zarra suddenly stopped, and scales rippled up her body. There was a faint sound like rustling bushes, and it was coming closer. The furrens’ ears twitched. They heard it too.
Rebecca whispered “Stand ready”. Hailey, Wendy and Candy had their claws out and ready for anything.
A pale woman with black hair and fangs emerged onto the path directly in front of them, chewing a piece of fruit the native island’s fruit. She stopped, slowly turning to look at the group ready for battle, dropped the fruit, and put up her hands.
Hailey started to giggle, “A Fruit bat. We all got freaked out by a friendly.” She retracted her claws. “Sorry about that.”
“You scared me half to death,” the girl laughed as she realized they were relaxing. “I haven’t seen anyone since I got here so I thought I was alone.”
“Oh, goodness no. There’s about 40 more of your species back at our colony.” Brie replied.
“To make a very long story short,” Rebecca laughed, adding, “And I’m very sorry for scaring you by the way. We’re part of an exploration guild. We were all brought to this planet by a mysterious force; some of us as much as eighty galactic standard years ago.”
“My goodness,” the girl said. “It has only been a few days for me. I hide out during the day at the strange building near here, and go out at night to look for food.”
“Wait, your species has no scent.. You must have been what I saw.” Hailey blushed. “You were at the warehouse earlier weren’t you?”
She shook her head, “Nope.. I was near the temple further in getting some fruit.” She opened her bag to show them the assortment of bananas, apples, even a papaya. “I avoid the warehouse. For some reason, it unsettles me.”
“Weird.” Hailey sighed. “I swear something was there.”
“When I go near there the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stands on end,” the girl said. “It sounds silly, superstitious, but when you are alone in these woods, your mind can really mess with you. I am so glad to find other people.”
“You mentioned a temple?” Rebecca asked.
“Yes. It appears to be ancient.” The girl smiled as she pointed toward the small, almost indiscernible path she had been following - at least, indiscernible in this light, to the humans and to Ella. Brie and the furren could just make it out.
“Oh,” she said after a moment. “ i'm Sasha, by the way. On my planet I’m a surveyor. Come, we can get small vehicles from the automotive factory that we can take to the temple more quickly.”
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