Dozens of colorful liquids in closed vials were scattered and displayed all around the science facility. The facility was still receiving its final touches, but Tang Fa managed to find ways to work inside with little hindrance.
She held one of the vials in her paw, watching two colors swirl around each other, refusing to merge. The virus within could be disastrous if it were to escape, such is the same with all the vials around the facility.
"How's the research coming?" asked Fury suddenly, using Yukiomaru's voice again but after maturing it and yet making it softer.
"I'm making progress slowly," she admitted, placing the vial down. "Were these classified in the different planets they came from?"
"Yes they were," Fury answered, his voice monotone. "The alien species that we traded them from, back at that frozen planet, said that they were from three different planets. They were sorted in the different classifications when they arrived on the ship."
"I remember the trading," Tang mumbled, watching the two colors swirl around each other microscopically. "We spent a month in orbit doing nothing but waiting for the trade."
"The Admiral, and your brother, Jun, were in constant communication with the aliens," Fury said, defending the Admiral's decision. "We not only got these supplies for research but we also received valuable information regarding the nearby star systems."
Tang ignored him for a couple minutes while she worked; and even though he had no physical form there, she knew he was still there watching over her shoulder.
"Is there something else, Fury?" she asked without losing focus on her work.
"Yes," he answered, tone unchanged. "Your brother sent you a message a couple hours ago, and it has gone unread. With Drach'n Breath in the fleet with us, Jun Fa and the Admiral will be heading over there to brief the crew on the current situation soon. The Admiral knows you are protective of your brother, so an invitation was extended to you to survey the new ship too."
"I'm no more protective than a sister should be," said Tang, leaning back from her work with a sigh. She pulled out her PawPad and checked her messages. "I have to leave now if I want to get to the ship in time then."
"I had your things prepared and sent to the dropship," said Fury. "Would you like me to direct you to the ship?"
"Yes, thank you," Tang answered. She stood from her desk and carefully placed the vials in storage. After hastily writing down her final notes, she stripped off her clothes and entered the decontamination shower. "Fury, please scan for any hitchhiking organisms."
After it was confirmed that she was clean, Tang left the facility and entered the nearly barren corridors of Drach'n Fury. With the AI's assistance, the marten quickly found the correct hangar and entered it via a catwalk. Gazing down in the hangar, she could see one of the dropships being prepped for launch. She briskly walked down to the dropship and boarded, finding Jun already there, reading from his PawPad.
"It feels like I haven't seen you since we've been on Drach'n Fury," Tang stated, sitting next to her brother. His ears twitched at the sound of her voice but his eyes remained on the screen of the PawPad.
"It's been rare when we have," agreed Jun, looking up once he finished reading the message. He smiled wide at her. "I'm glad you decided to come with us to see the new ship."
"My research is going a little slow right now so I needed a break," said Tang.
"Or you wanted to look after me," the younger marten smirked. Tang smiled in reply and put an arm around her brother.
"Someone has to out here," she admitted. "Why are you going to see the new ship now anyway?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Jun giggled, leaning against Tang.
"You've never liked flying; I thought you'd avoid it wherever you can."
"I've been growing accustomed to it being on Drach'n Fury," replied Jun. "Besides, there's a huge meteor near a star that we will be passing when we switch ships. How else to view such a magnificent sight than through the large windows of this small ship?"
"You've always been fascinated by comets for some reason," Tang said, observing the ship's interior in a mocking manner. "I don't see any windows in here."
"The Admiral agreed to let me sit in the co-pilot's seat once we depart," Jun said. Both brother and sister continued to chat idly while they waited for a few minutes. It was a rare moment when these two could spend some time together.
Before hardly five minutes passed the Admiral, walking with Captain DeWitt, stepped into the passenger bay of the small ship. With the short fox walking next to the tall ermine, Tang was reminded how young the Admiral really was; just a kit.
"Welcome Tang Fa, Jun Fa," said Admiral Alexander, taking a seat opposite of them. "I'm glad you both decided to come. Your help will make the crew of Drach'n Breath understand what is to be expected."
"We're here to serve," Tang remarked. Jun stopped leaning on her and supported himself in front of the Admiral.
"Are we still passing by the comet?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes we're very near it now so we'll get an excellent view while jumping ship," answered Yukiomaru, amused. "We're ready to leave Pilot Cooper."
"Yes sir," the pilot's voice responded over the intercom. "Buckle in."
The low hum of the engines crept into the passenger bay, and the gravity could be felt shifting, much to Tang's displeasure. Less than thirty seconds later, the gravity stabled into a low pull, just enough to allow for the passengers to walk.
"You can come up whenever you want Admiral," the pilot said. "The comet is in plain view from here."
"Come on up if you wish to Jun," said the Admiral, unbuckling and heading toward the cockpit. Tang watched Jun follow, and decided to peek out the window as well. While she walked by, Captain Dewitt watched them go, sighed and then mumbled something that sounded an awful like "children."
A bright blue tint glowed within the cockpit of the small ship, and coming from the massive icy comet seen right outside the window.
"It's huge," muttered Jun, his gaze fixed upon it.
"Fury, scan the comet when you go by it," ordered the Admiral, holding his PawPad in one of his paws. "Keep the ship away from it though. It looks larger than a small moon."
"I'll have the scans ready for yo... Admiral! I'm picking up life forms on that comet." Fury's voice came from the PawPad.
"Life on a comet?" questioned Tang. It's been theorized before to colonize a comet but it's always been found to be impossible. Even if a sustainable atmosphere could be created on the surface, the ground itself is too unstable in all known comets.
"Life?" mumbled Jun.
"Does it have an atmosphere?" asked Yukiomaru, his voice elevated and sounding more high-pitched than usual. "How can it sustain life?"
"Scanning... Not atmosphere but ... One moment. There's a lot of interference."
"Is it a danger?"
"No weapon systems found," continued Fury over the PawPad and intercoms now. "Scans almost complete... Got it. There are only three life forms on the surface, one unknown and two belonging to the parasitic alien race that attacked the stolen ship of Bridging Albatross. A remnant of a small crashed vessel is located on the surface."
"Can we destroy the parasites without harming the other individual?" asked the Admiral.
"Even with our weapon systems, there's too much interference and they're too close to risk such an action."
"Admiral," Jun spoke up suddenly. "If we were able to capture a live specimen of this parasite race, then we'll be much more prepared for what happens if we encounter more of them."
The Admiral thought on that for a moment. "That's an awful risk."
"The unknown contact is fleeing from the parasites so a decision will be needed soon," Fury commented. "I can modify our weapons to sedate the three of them. Rescuing this survivor could help significantly in later negotiations."
"Very well," said the Admiral. "Sedate them if you can. Order Captain Redding to go down with a team and pick them up. I'm giving a direct order to slay only one of the parasites and capture the other if possible. Send two ships and modify the second ship to be used as a prison transport for the parasite. The ship carrying it is not to board any ship without my direct permission."
"I'll have a full barrier around it so there's no possible chance of escape," Fury said.
"And if it does?" asked the pilot.
"Captain Redding is one of my best officers," said the Admiral, his mind distracted by his thoughts. "I trust that he'll contain the creature or kill it before it can do any damage."
"Yes sir," the pilot answered. "Are we still going to Drach'n Breath then?"
"Yes," commanded the Admiral. "Keep me updated on the progress Fury. I'm sorry Jun and Tang but can you please take your seats."
"It's okay Yukiomaru," said Jun, ducked out of the cockpit. "Thanks for letting us have a look anyway." Tang followed him out silently. Captain DeWitt was standing near the door that separated the passenger bay from the cockpit and slipped in once the martens were out.
"I hope you don't think you're going to be studying on this thing, even if they do get it back alive," stated Tang seriously. She sat back in the same seat.
"I don't suspect the Admiral will allow for anyone to be in the same room with it, but I do wish to monitor it at least."
"What do you expect to learn from such a creature?"
"I'm not sure but I hope I'll find something..."
Several minutes passed with Jun pondering over his thoughts, but he seemed rather excited about the chance to have the test subject.
"We're approaching the carrier," announced the pilot. "Please secure yourselves."
Tang was concerned about Jun's excitement over studying the parasite, even if he would be only using his PawPad to monitor its behavior. The meeting with the commander of the vessel and the officers went by without much interest. Tang wasn't needed and Jun only offered his analysis and theories about the aliens they have come in contact with thus far.
Several of the junior officers exchanged hushed words and unconfident glances. Tang wasn't blind; she knew that they felt uneasy being briefed by those who are much younger than them. She was the second oldest, and nearly all the officers there from Drach'n Breath were older than her. Only Captain DeWitt was older than her.
The ermine kept whispering into the Admiral's ear the updates on the mission Fury was conducting with the help of the wolf Tang briefly met before, Captain Redding. She could assume it was a success because the Admiral didn't hurry along the briefing or urgently run off.
"Sir," spoke up one of the senior officers when the Admiral finished discussing the existence of Fury. "No disrespect but how can we assure our soldiers and pilots that the many young crewmembers in this fleet are up to the task?"
"Colonel," replied Yukiomaru, seriously. "I don't have time to comfort each soldier assigned to this fleet and if they feel uneasy about it then they may discuss it freely, off duty. When any officer is wearing his uniform, he or she answers to their superior officers, or me without question. There are no exceptions. There are no hesitations. Am I understood Colonel?"
"Yes sir!" snapped the Colonel standing rigid.
"I understand that your concern is valid," Yukiomaru continued. "I also understand that there is a pack onboard here on Drach'n Breath that is not much older than myself. No one is here to prove anything to our fellow crewmembers, and no one is here without extensive training. This pack, for example, is the best team the UDAS had ever seen come out of that orphan program. They will not fail you or this fleet. Nor will I fail the fleet."
"You have our full support, sir," said the Commander, an impala. He turned his attention to the senior officer who just questioned the Admiral and raised his voice so the whole room could hear. "Your record has been made accessible to the senior staff, and the results of your training are by far the best I've ever seen. I should expect no insubordination of any type from my crew at all. On, or off duty."
"Yes sir!" some of the officers barked.
Captain DeWitt whispered something into the Admiral's ear again. Tang wondered why the Captain didn't come to his defense a moment ago, but then a dozen different reasons told her why he didn't.
"Thank you Commander for your time on your ship," said Admiral Yukiomaru. "We captured one of the parasites from the comet so I must excuse myself now and head back to Drach'n Fury. Crew dismissed!"
Walking with the Admiral and the others, it felt strange, almost a sensation of pride. She couldn't explain why at the moment why she felt that sensation but she later felt a feeling of security when they walked back into the hangar. Dozens of Immunities, the new models, were lined up in the hangar. With two capital ships, hundreds of single fighters, and an exciting void to research, Tang knew she was where she belonged.
"I'm afraid you might have to go through this when we get the other two ships too," said Captain DeWitt once they were all onboard. "But it should get easier."
"I'll count myself lucky that there haven't been any insubordination incidents yet," replied the Admiral. "But don't be concerned about it. When I was assigned to a new class, I always wanted to professor to prove he was worth my cooperation. Soldiers aren't much different; they will always want to know they can place that trust in their officers. For good reason too."
"That's a more pleasant way to look at it," commented Jun, leaning back in his seat. Yukiomaru smiled very slightly. Tang had never seen him smile when he was around her, and she would have bet her laboratory that he smiled less when she wasn't around. "It's a shame that we passed the comet already. It was quite a beauty."
"Fury, what is the status on our prisoner?" Yukiomaru asked into the open. No trace of a smile ever existing was left.
"Still sedated," answered Fury over the intercom.
"Damn it Fury!" yelled the startled pilot from the cockpit. "Don't do that. I thought someone hacked the ship for a moment there."
"My apologies Pilot Cooper," said Fury indifferent.
"Almost gave me a heart attack," mumbled the pilot with another string of phrases while he calmed down.
"It is still on the ship hovering several kilometers from my starboard hull," continued Fury. "Our other guest is isolated, and also still sedated. Our medical crew is looking at it and doing their best to keep it alive."
"Is it injured?" asked Yukiomaru.
"No but it is distressed," Fury answered. "I'd suggest try to wake it up and let it know that the parasites are no longer a threat to it."
"What happened to the second one?" asked Tang.
"A pile of ashes now," Fury said.
"Wake up our guest, I want to speak to it once I get on board," said the Admiral.
They boarded a few minutes later, and Yukiomaru asked both of them to accompany him while dismissing Captain DeWitt to discuss the details of security for bringing the parasite on board. Walking at a brisk pace that even the much taller martens had trouble keeping up with, the Admiral reached the medical facility quickly. Glass panels replaced the white polygon walls, but nearly as strong. The Admiral stopped outside of one of the rooms that were completely sealed off. A creature lay on the table.
"Sir!" snapped one of the doctors, saluting. "Welcome to the medical facilities. Our guest is still unconscious but we managed to get it out of its suit and comfortable sleeping. We had to adjust the temperature and atmosphere inside the room slightly but we can still survive in it too."
Gaze fixed upon the alien, Tang was shocked. She never seen anything like it before, not even any of the previous aliens could compare to this one, which had a certain noble beauty to it. It didn't look much different from them either.
"Is it stable?" asked Yukiomaru, staring at the creature.
"Yes but it is under a lot of stress," said the doctor. "It's dreaming right now and from what we can tell, it's not a pleasant dream. It'll be fine once it wakes up."
It didn't look distressed to her. The alien looked much like them; furred body, digitigrade legs, tail, bipedal, ears but it also had feathers. Its fur was crimson red, but the feathers faded into neon orange at the tips.
"Can we wake it up without harming it?"
"Possibly but I don't want to introduce any drugs to its system," answered the doctor, quite strictly. "We know nothing about it."
"Would it respond to environment changes?" asked Yukiomaru. "Colder temperatures? Noise? Lights? If you can, wake it up."
"Yes sir," said the doctor. "It might not be happy being held here and woken up so rudely though." She walked off and entered another glass room, connected her PawPad wirelessly to one of the consoles and fiddled with the controls.
The lights brightened slowly before dimming again inside the alien room before low noises were heard coming through the glass. The changes were gentle at first but once the lights went nearly completely dark and brighten back up, the creature stirred. It sat up in a hurry and observed its surroundings quickly but then it relaxed.
Tang watched with fascination while it hunched over the side of the table and rubbed its large eyes. It was naked underneath the blanket, giving the three of them a view of its anatomy.
It had a narrow snout, no nose visible but nostrils higher than usual on the snout. Feathers laid back on its head, slightly propped up like forming a crown. Backward feathers were coming from its elbows, and on its flanks around its waist; more at the end of its long and thick tail. Its ears were slanted slightly sideways but stiff. Dark claws were seen at the end of its paws that looked very lethal.
Done rubbing its eyes, it looked directly at the Admiral. It had slit pupils and of a strange contrasting dark blue hardly distinguishable from the pupils. Its eyes glanced over the two martens, and it did a completely unexpected response: it rolled its eyes.
It stood, slightly hunched over and braced itself against the table it was just lying on before taking another step. It walked right up to the glass panel, and it was near a full head taller than Tang, who was tall for her age and gender. There was no clear indication of it having a gender.
It knelt down to one kneel to look Yukiomaru directly in the eyes. They stared at one another, neither trying to say anything nor making any movement, not even a twitch. It wore an expression that Tang perceived as amusement. She glanced at the Admiral whose serious face didn't change at all for the moment. Nearly a minute went by of the alien staring at the Admiral as if they were trying to force their thoughts into each other's mind before the Admiral returned the expression.
The alien gave a strange expression similar to a smile before standing back up and walking back to the table and sat down. Then it started to examine its claws and paws before the rest of its body.
"Doctor, was there any injuries you've found on it?" asked Yukiomaru, eyes never leaving the creature while it examined it's own body.
"Other than a few bruises underneath the fur, no," answered the doctor. She must have snuck up behind them when the Admiral and alien were staring at each other. "We didn't tend to any injuries so it won't find any of our work on it."
"Did you take blood samples yet?" questioned the Admiral.
"Fury told my team to not harm it for any reason, medical procedures included," she again answered. The alien finished a very thorough inspection of itself before more carefully examining its claws, and the sharpness of them.
"Smart AI," mumbled Tang.
"It thanked me for rescuing it and it seems relatively calm," continued the Admiral, watching the alien. "Let's not break its trust. Explain to it that we need to test a blood sample before we can interact with it further. I don't want it to see any weapons on any personnel who are in this facility that it can perceive as a threat."
"Explain to it?" repeated the doctor. "How did it thank you?"
The Admiral took his eyes off the alien for the first time since it woke up and glared at the doctor. "It wasn't staring at me because it liked the color of my eyes," he said harshly. "Jun will assist in communicating with it, and get the blood to Tang's crew once you have it. We need to ensure that we're not allergic to any microorganisms this alien might have."
"Tang, I'll need your help getting blood and body tissues from the parasite," he said, leading her away from her brother.
"Not as delicate with that one huh?"
The Admiral didn't answer while he headed back to the hangar. Entering the hangar it almost the same angle as the one on the carrier, Tang wasn't as impressed since there was only maybe a dozen Immunities inside and a few dropships. One of them was the one that ferried from ship to ship, and they were going on it again.
"Pilot Cooper, can you take us to the prison ship," said the Admiral. It wasn't a question.
"Of course sir," he said with a sigh. He was still in the pilots seat from the last flight, filling out "paper"work on his PawPad. Placing the device back in his pocket, he went back to the control panel of the small ship. They took off again with the nauseous sensation returning before they left the hangar's gravity field.
Less than a minute passed before they slowed down and docked with the other dropship. A serious of green lights indicated that the both ships were pressurized and secure.
"Undock once we're on the other ship and stay close to the dropship," said the Admiral. "Keep your weapon systems warm."
"Uh, yes sir," said the pilot hesitantly. The Admiral dropped through the hatch easily enough, but Tang had to crawl down the hatch.
She dropped onto the metal floor of the second dropship, and turned around to see a glimmering glow box surrounding a dark creature in the middle. Three armed guards were standing idly by, one the wolf Captain Redding and his sergeant, Gale Bricken, the outspoken rabbit.
"Fury, are you controlling this thing's environment?" asked Yukiomaru.
"No sir," he answered over the ships intercom again. "There's no isolated vent going into that chamber so I can't change the environment."
"Can we give it a fresh dose of a sedative then?"
"If you all put on a mask then I might be able to introduce a sedative to the whole ship, including the creature," answered Fury.
From one of the storage compartments, the three guards, the Admiral, and Tang put on masks that snuggly fit over their snouts. Before the sedative was introduced though, the Admiral commanded Tang to put on full gear instead.
"Sterilize the ship and add the sedative," commanded Yukiomaru.
Many lights started to flash red and a strange mist entered the compartment. Once that was gone, another mist came in and the barrier disappeared. All the guards snapped their rifles up and trained them on the creature which continued to lie motionlessly.
"Get all the samples you think you'll need," said the Admiral, walking with Tang up to the creature.
She knelt down next to it, instantly noticing the dark red fur and orange tipped feathers. "It's a infected alien of the one we have on Fury." Several tentacles sprouted from its body in unnatural locations. She took a scalpel and moved closer to one. It reacted.
She nearly jumped back into the Admiral and all the guards tensed up. The movement was so small and soon stopped.
"Don't shoot it," she exclaimed, kneeling down to the creature again. "It was just a reflex. I overreacted. It seems to unconsciously try to protect itself." She again took the scalpel to the creature, which slowly moved away from her again but she scraped off a few samples of its skin and placed them in a vial.
It didn't stop moving but she continued to work, slicing up a little bit of the tentacle in search of finding blood veins. But there were none. Confused, she examined closer to the point of the exit of the tentacle from the red furred body. Again she sliced it and found no blood or any inner organs of any type. No muscles, no bone, no cartilage; only a little milky substance. She scraped off a little of that into a vial as well.
Focus redirected, she saw the tentacle was reared, poised like a snake ready to strike. She inhaled sharply and tried to push herself back. The tentacle lunged for her.
A strong force pushed her to the side, and she blacked out for a moment but quickly recovered. Looking up, she saw Yukiomaru standing just where she was, a blue glowing sword pinning the wriggling tentacle to the bulkhead.
The third guard looked scared to the point of fainting while the Captain and his spotter hovered over the creature guns pointed at the head of the infected being. Its eyes were open and it mumbled something in a strange language. It was in pain.
Standing back up, she saw that the infested alien was still alive and its eyes were full of sorrow and pain. Movement drew her attention to a dying tentacle wriggling in front of the third guard. She wasn't the only one it tried to attack.
"Sir?" yelled Sergeant Bracken.
The Admiral didn't respond, but stared at the eyes of the infested alien.
"It's asking for the mercy of death," Tang said sadly, looking at it.
"I thought it was already dead," muttered Yukiomaru. "Tell your brother I'm sorry we couldn't take it alive." The Admiral removed his sword for the wriggling tentacle, replaced by the wolf's boot, and stood over the infested alien. He held the sword above its throat. The alien showed the same strange expression of a smile that the other showed but much weaker.
Only one cut was required.
Several hours later, Tang was back on Drach'n Fury huddled over her PawPad. She was reviewing the attack on the prison ship. The tentacle was rearing for an attack the whole time, never retreating from pain or an assumed threat. It responded to the guards' reactions, it knew they would have shot it if it didn't stop moving that first time.
In a blur, the creature attacked but almost the exact same moment, the Admiral moved too. She replayed the Admiral's move several times, but the clip was less than half a second long. He pulled out his sword, that Tang didn't even know he carried, pushed her aside, sliced off the second tentacle that attacked the third guard and pilot of the vessel, and drove the sword through the tentacle that attacked her.
She has never seen anyone react and move so fast. She could hardly see his movements on the camera recording; it was almost supernatural. The marten sighed and leaned back in her chair, giving up on slowing down the clip enough to examine the Admiral's movements.
She glanced over at her table full of the specimens she collected. The body was burned, but she had blood and tissue samples from the infected and milk and cell wall samples from the vines. It was true what she thought: it was a parasitic plant. Intelligent vines that can kill.
She took out a pen and walked over to the table, placed some tape on the table and wrote "Creeper."