Chapter 1.5

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“Vortran hold that wire!” Sam shouted.

“I’m holding the wire! The power’s been cut!” Vortran shoved Sam out of the way and sat up, letting the wire go finally. The ship had gone silent and dark,

“Why’s the power been-” Sam trailed off as something bumped into the ship exterior, and the telltale sound of a boarding saw screamed through the ship, “Gods-damnit Vortran, you said you didn’t steal anything!”

“And you said you were getting rid of the rugrat, I guess we’re both liars!” Vortran snapped, grabbing the nearby backpack and hurrying down the hall towards the noise. Sam took a second to comprehend this, then ran after his friend.

“If you get us both killed I’m haunting your ghost!” He winced as he ran past the section of hallway they were cutting through, and reached the escape pod. It was a single but they could both squeeze in for a short and unpleasant ride. He grab Vortran’s collar and put himself in the way, “This is the last time I trust you.”

“Like you ever did.” Vortran squirmed free and landed in front of Sam.

“And this is why!” Sam sat down in the chair, “You haven’t changed, and I have!”

“You…” Vortran pointed an angry claw at him, “You’re such an ass, Sam.”

Before Sam could react Vortran triggered the external release.

“What are you doing? Get in the damn pod!” Sam buckled up frantically as the warning lights went off, sticking out a foot to stop it from closing.

“Go find your damn rugrat, I’ll want to meet them after I make you eat your words.” Vortran kicked his foot inside just as the intruders appeared in the hall, then lunged for the nearest one as the pod ejected forcefully.

Sam kicked the door, then looked down at the backpack Vortran had left in the pod. He would have to give it back, even if it’s contents were most likely stolen. The screen demanded coordinates and Sam put in the station Jessie was going to. He could still make it in time, if he slept. Vortran would be fine, and would probably meet them there. His stomach reminded him there had been no time for breakfast, and he scrounged for a ration pack. All he found was an old picture of their old salvage crew, but somehow his appetite disappeared after that.

***

“Misa?” Jessie practically crawled over Mark and put her hand on the now dark screen.

“Signal must’ve dropped. He’ll meet us at the station though.” Mark put a hand on her shoulder but she shrugged him off.

“Misa!” She screamed, hitting the monitor repeatedly. Calvin jumped up and pulled her off of his equipment.

“Calm down! He just got disconnected!” Mark couldn’t find an opening to help Calvin hold the flailing, screaming child.

A hideous yowl erupted from her and suddenly instead of a flailing child Calvin found his arm pinning a lavender cat-like creature. It bit his arm and scratch violently with it’s back claws. Calvin dropped it with a yelp and stared at his bloodied arm.

“Shit! She’s a shifter…” Mark called for a med unit and looked out into the hall, “As soon as they get you patched up get a scan going. We need to find her before she gets in trouble.”

Calvin sat down heavily on the floor.

“Calvin?” Mark looked slightly alarmed and knelt to check his pulse but Calvin shook his head.

“Sorry, just a bit startled… Scan the ship, I got it.”

“Medical is coming, do you want me to wait for them?”

“Go, gotta look for her.”

Mark frowned at him uncertainly, but left moments before the medics arrived. After he was patched up Calvin picked up the now bloodied clothes piled by the door and handed them to one of the medics.

“You may want to inform Officer Levins the girl is going to need fresh clothing.” The medic nodded and hurried away down the hall. Calvin sat back down in his chair and pressed his face against the cold console. It beeped and whirred a little and he managed half a grin, scratching at his newly bandaged arm. “It can wait till after dinner, Mark hasn’t even found her yet.” He suddenly remembered what he was supposed to be doing and sat up to start the scan, but the computer had already started it, “Clever girl, bet the captain’s not going to pleased at your initiative.” He patted the console anyway, eliciting another beep.

***

Jessie had gotten a bit lost in her panic, and it felt like hours before she wandered into the medical area. She ducked into the first door that opened and backed into a corner to catch her breath. Her claws were speckled with blood and she felt a bit woozy at the sight of it. Mr. Calvin would be angry, and Misa would hear about it and be angry too, and he might make her stay behind next time. Someone clearing their throat brought her back to reality and her fur spiked as she realised whose room she ducked into.

“It’s alright, little one, I don’t bite.” The man smiled a little. There was no sharp laugh or teeth this time, “I’m sorry if I scared you before, I rarely have dealings with children.”

Jessie meowed at him warily, and edged towards the door. Footsteps in the hallway forced her to reconsider and she hid in the corner again.

“I suppose they’re looking for you. Judging from the smell of blood I’m guessing there was a bit of an accident.” Jessie meowed again and growled as the door opened. Mark poked his head in and glared at the man before following his gaze to her hiding spot.

“There you are, I was getting worried.” He took a step into the room and she hissed at him, arching her back. “Woah, hey, calm down.”

“She’s afraid she’s in trouble.” The man offered, laying down on his bench and opening his book.

“You’re not in trouble, Jessie, it was an accident. We know you were just upset.” Mark glared at the man even as he was talking, sidestepping towards Jessie. She meowed quizzically and settled her fur down, “Come on, we’ll get you some fresh clothes and food.” He gestured for her to follow him out the door and locked it as soon as she was in the hall with him. She followed him down the hall slowly, tail twitching listlessly side to side and head bowed low.

***

Calvin briefly joined them at dinnertime, accepting a mumbled apology from Jessie before departing again. The remainder of the time she stirred her food and tugged at the oversized shirt they had found for her. There were never many children on this ship, and she was by far the smallest they’d had in ages.

“You should really eat. It’s going to be a long time before breakfast.” Mark was only half-finished with dinner, having lost his own appetite.

“Who is that man?” Jessie asked suddenly, not looking up from her plate. Mark choked a little and drank half of his water in one go. He opened his mouth several times to speak before forcing his eyes back down to his plate.

“He’s just some vagrant with a sprained ankle hitching a free ride. You don’t need to worry about him.”

“Why’s he tied up?”

This question took Mark far longer to find an answer for, “We can’t have him wandering the ship, he might get into trouble or hurt someone.”

“So he’s dangerous?”

“Er… well he’s a vagrant, so we don’t know. He doesn’t have a chip so we don’t know who he is or what he’s done.” Mark looked up at Jessie again, but she was staring intensely at her food.

“Why is he on this ship? Was he on a pod like me?”

“No, he was dropped off by an enforcement cruiser since we have medical to help his leg. We’re just dropping him off now at the station.”

“Was he under arrest?”

“I-er, I didn’t ask, but probably.”

“What’d he do?”

“I don’t know, Jessie, he’s just a vagrant. They’re all just wastes of space.” There was a hint of frustration in his voice that he’d been trying to keep out.

“Oh.” She shoveled some food in her mouth and chewed on it in silence. He left her securely in her room and went to bed that night to lay staring at the ceiling until he finally passed out.

***

Calvin had been on hold with his father for an hour, then spent an hour arguing, and now all he wanted to do was sleep. His brain kept wandering back to bird documentaries though, and how brutal the predatory birds looked scooping up their prey. The weird noises Jessie had made during those scenes made more sense now, in a way. Maybe she got a thrill out of watching birds fly, like a housecat. Or maybe she was a weird kid, and the shapeshifting had nothing to do with that. He dreamt that night of people pawing at doors to be let out and cats ordering him about and filling out forms only to shred them with their gigantic claws. It was not the worst set of dreams he’d ever had, but that brought him little comfort.

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