9.4

Sam called home reluctantly the next morning. His mother had already sounded him out the night before for taking so long and she looked unhappy this morning as well.

“You’re taking off today right? It’s going to take a month for you to get here and I want my granddaughter settled in before her birthday, not after.”

“They’re loading up fresh supplies now, mother.”

“Did you get Jessie new clothing? She’s going to sprout up any day now and you never buy her clothes.”

“Yes.” He didn’t trust a longer reply.

“And when are you going to explain this business with that Sutro boy? Last night you said he was being transferred to our home to recuperate but I seem to recall him kidnapping my granddaughter rather recently. Is he not going to be tried?”

“That’s… extremely complicated and I’d like to discuss it in person. Not over comms.”

She frowned severely but her eyes had softened a bit, “I just want both of you home.”

“I know… have you sent people to pick up the vagrant?”

“They’re already on their way. Hopefully he won’t prove too troublesome once they find him.”

“Tell them-” He stopped, seeing her expectant look, “He may be dangerous, but they need to not hurt him if possible.”

“Of course, Samuel. Now finish your preparations and come home already, we miss you.” She smiled and he managed a halfhearted smile back, blood covered fangs firmly in the front of his mind.

***

Vortran and Yik had taken off early in the morning but Hedgy was there to see them off, with a distracted looking Mark beside him.

“I was wondering if I was going to see you again before you went back to your ship.” Sam said, shaking Mark’s hand as the last few supplies were being loaded. Jessie was wandering around the loading area impatiently as they spoke.

“Well… I’m not going back to the ship right away.” Mark scratched the back of his head, “I think I’m gonna go home for a while, maybe travel around a bit and get some… perspective.”

They stood there in an awkward silence until Hedgy spoke up finally, “I’ll transfer some more files for you to look over once you’re underway. Please try to make it home without further incident.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine, unless I delay taking off much longer.” He grimaced as Jessie latched onto his arm suddenly.

“Misa, let’s go! There’s no more boxes!” She whined at him.

“Say goodbye first, Jessie.” Sam frowned at her.

“Bye Hedgy, bye Officer Levins.” She hid behind him a little as she spoke.

“Goodbye Jessie, make sure your dad doesn’t get in an more trouble on the way home.” Hedgy patted her on the head and she nodded solemnly at him.

“It was nice meeting you, Miss Mitchell.” Mark smiled a little uncomfortably.

“Alright alright, slow down.” Sam let Jessie drag him towards the ship, waving at the others as he climbed on board and the door slid shut. He buckled Jessie in first then took his place in the captain’s seat and prepped for takeoff. As they were cleared for takeoff Jessie sought out his hand and he squeezed hers for a second before gripping the controls again. Once they were safely on autopilot he unbuckled and freed her.

“Which box is my stuff?” She ran off towards the cargo hold immediately, calling back to him.

“All the blue ones are yours, please don’t unpack until you get them to your…” He stopped as she ran past, clothes dropping behind her, “room.” He started gathering up the trail of destruction even as she ran past again.

***

There was something following him, though not close by. He’d come across tracks that weren’t his near his cave twice already. Jerret was reluctant to change homes but if there was a threat it would be easier to find another part of the planet to inhabit. He didn’t want to waste energy fighting competition.

It could wait until after the rain though. He shook off droplets of rain and sniffed at the musty book by his bed before laying down. His stomach was still full from the last hunt, he could make good distance after some rest.

He heard them in the dark of night, leaves crunching under their feet. At least three outside though he couldn’t see any of them. He stood up cautiously, grabbing the book in his teeth, and slunk out the back way. Voices behind him told him they knew he was moving and he broke into a run. In the dark he might lose them and find a new place to hide. He just had to outpace them long enough.

He dashed across a stream, risking the noise to mask his smell. On the far back he froze, seeing three more figures off to his left. At first they didn’t seem to spot him, milling about barely visible. One turned and gestured to him though and he ran again, away from both groups of pursuers.

His leg were beginning to tire and his breathing was labored as he gained enough of a lead to feel safe ducking into the first hiding spot he found. He collapsed and curled up defensively, trying to breath quietly.

Their footsteps crunched past, stopping nearby and he froze, ready to to run again. There was a familiar sweet smell in the air that made him nervous but the footsteps started up again, moving away this time. Exhaustion overwhelmed him and he lay down with the book under his head. Hoping he could rest there for just a moment, he shut his eyes and fell asleep immediately.

He woke up disoriented, on a cold metal floor in a bright room. Jerret struggled to his feet groggily and growled as someone’s shadow loomed over him. His head was too foggy to understand the noises they were making and he snapped at them as the drew closer, his muzzle hitting bars he hadn’t realized stood between them. They backed away and left him alone in the room. He lay down again, feeling his stomach churn from every movement. As he pressed his head against the cold floor he realized he couldn’t smell the book anymore and whined softly to himself.

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