Steam rose in small wispy plumes, being sucked up into a vent to be condensed and recycled. Underneath the steam wisps and the hot water that created the steam stood Yukiomaru. His eyes were closed but he was gazing up at the source of light in deep thought. The hot water soaked his fur and pooled around his exposed claws on his toes.
After only a day, the linguistic specialists were able to update the translators sufficiently to translate full sentences of the alien. It was still held in the medical facility, where the environment was more adequate for it, but the room was made more comfortable by removing the majority of the medical equipment. No one has entered without wearing an environment suit to make the work easier but in a few hours Yukiomaru would be entering to hold a conversation with his guest. The thought made Yukiomaru anxious.
An annoying beeping started, signaling Yukiomaru that he was soon to pass the water conversation limit. Without any soap to rinse from his fur, he deactivated the shower before the alarm could persist. He stood dripping wet for a moment before exiting the shower and drying off in the full body dryer.
Groomed, Yukiomaru began to pull clothes from his drawers when Fury interrupted.
"I miss being able to feel the hot water relax my muscles after training," he said, refusing to appear. "And the feeling of combing my fur."
"Can't you use one of the programs to stimulate the sensation?" asked Yukiomaru, pulling up his undergarments.
"I could but my sense of touch is limited to what the engineers could program," Fury answered. "Besides, having a computer program create a false sensation is nothing like the real thing."
"You are a computer program too," Yukiomaru said, half dressed. "Those programs are as real as it'll ever get."
"I know," responded Fury. His usual neutral tone sounded almost solemn.
Silence followed until Yukiomaru was fully dressed. "What's your progress on the comet?"
"I searched for evidence of it entering this system before it fell into the stable orbit it is in now but I've found nothing. The alien's ship, however, was attacked something else other than the parasite. Whatever attacked it caused it to crash. I assume that the parasite was either already there or followed the alien's vessel until it crashed."
"Anyway to detect what attacked his ship, or where he came from?" asked Yukiomaru. He walked out of his quarters, forcing Fury to use the speakers in the corridors.
"The ship was too badly damaged from the crash to determine what attacked it, but I did trace a small gas substance that is similar to the substance leaking from the smaller ship's engines. It's not easy to trace but I can get a general idea where the ship came from."
"Have you already set a course?"
"No I was waiting for your approval. There may be more to learn in this system."
"Please inform Drach'n's Breath, then set a course," commanded Yukiomaru. "Send a report back to command about what you have discovered."
"Yes Admiral," replied Fury.
"How long following this trail do you think it will take to find the alien's fleet?"
"The traceable gas ends not far beyond the outer rim of this star system so unless they're looking for it or are very close, then it could take days to weeks to months."
"Send a report to me whenever something changes in the search."
"Of course Admiral," Fury again complied. "Are you ready for your meeting?"
"Yes, thank you Fury," Yukiomaru answered, nearing the medical facility. "Keep scanning for any more clues to the origin of these 'Creepers'."
Without another word, Fury stopped focusing on Yukiomaru and focused his attention elsewhere. The Admiral was left in peace for the next few minutes before he entered the brightened facility. In the quarantined area, Yukiomaru saw through the clear walls the alien. It was speaking to a device it retrieved from its damaged suit.
The device melted in its paw, part of it forming a semi-solid plate while the other part formed strange runes and symbols. The creature spoke again and the device vibrated with its voice to form more symbols.
Before Yukiomaru could announce his presence, the naked alien set the device aside and gazed directly at him. It looked pleased to see him and it sat up straighter, expecting Yukiomaru.
He approached the doors entering the quarantined room, and before the doors in front of him opened, the doors behind him sealed shut. When the doors in front him slid open, a small gust of cold wind blew toward him. Stepping inside, the doors closed again. The room was much colder than the rest of the ship and Yukiomaru instantly noticed that the oxygen levels were lower in here too.
The alien watched him pace into the room but otherwise remained motionless. Yukiomaru pulled out his PawPad from one of his pockets and activated it.
"Greetings," he said. The device responded by saying something in an unfamiliar language. Some of the sounds it made, Yukiomaru doubted that he could replicate very well. "I have been informed that our translators are sufficient. Can you confirm?" The device continued to translate what he said.
The alien spoke in the same language as Yukiomaru's PawPad but its voice was very calm and almost majestic. It definitely sounded male to Yukiomaru. A few seconds went by before the PawPad translated what was spoken. "Hello, Leader. I understand. My gratitude for the rescue."
"This device will translate what we say," said Yukiomaru. "What is yours?" He gestured at the semi-solid device that continued to form an infinite number of symbols while his PawPad translated his question.
"I to record. Good for people from me." The alien seemed disappointed somehow.
Yukiomaru held back a scowl from his own disappointment. The translations weren't as good as he hoped they would be. The lower levels of oxygen started to make him lightheaded but he resisted the affects.
"You are welcome on this ship," said Yukiomaru before he gestured to the rest of the room. "The environment in here is set by using information from your protective suit. If you'd like more changes, please let anyone know. You are free to roam the ship but your movements are monitored." There was a slight movement near the entrance of the room.
The alien looked briefly confused while the translation as being recorded. When finished, it took him a moment to interpret what was translated and he smiled. "You wise to watch. My gratitude for your hospitality."
Near the alien, there was another movement, one that was vaguely familiar to Yukiomaru. He lunged forward in an instant, pushing the alien aside and struck out a kick in midair. His paw landed forcefully on an invisible wall, sending it backwards and crashing over one of the tables.
The alien snarled viciously, baring its fangs and claws, having landed perfectly from Yukiomaru's sudden movements. Its eyes weren't on Yukiomaru however, but at the air near the table. An alarm immediately went off throughout the ship.
"Do not meddle!" a shadowy and hoarse voice said, not needing translation.
"What are you doing here?" asked Yukiomaru, standing between the red alien and ruined table, staring at the origin of the voice. The shadowy alien there shimmered in light, matching the exact tone of the room, making it almost impossible to notice. "How can you speak my language?"
The translator continued on its task, informing the upset red alien behind the Admiral what they were saying. It responded.
"It meddles with us," said the alien through the translator. "We to die because of it."
"It was they who attacked our planet," replied the invisible creature.
"Enough," barked Yukiomaru, still in a fighting stance. "This alien is a guest on my ship. Anyone under my protection will not be harmed. You, however, are not welcome here. Leave this ship, immediately."
A supportive growl came from behind Yukiomaru, but a more threatening scoffing noise came from the invisible creature.
"Very well," it said after a while. "My quarrel is not with you but we will be watching and strike when he is no longer under your protection."
The shimmering light that made the creature almost disappear, disappeared. Yukiomaru regained his composure and turned back the alien who also was calming down. The feathers around his body stood more rigidly but quickly fell back in line.
"My thanks again," said the alien through the translator, which continued to improve itself the more they spoke through it. "Apology for causing this disturbance."
"We've lost soldiers to one of their kind before," said Yukiomaru, eyes still cautious on his surroundings. "I will continue to work on this translator. I look forward to having more conversations with you. If you would please excuse me, I find myself needed at the commander center of this ship."
The translation worked well enough for the alien to smile at the obvious statement. Yukiomaru was a little shocked by that, it had a similar sense of humor as many of his own people do. He reached for his PawPad and turned to leave.
"B'olva," the alien said urgently.
Yukiomaru turned around and the alien spoke again.
"What are you label?"
"My name is Yukiomaru," answered Yukiomaru. "My full name is Yukiomaru Alexander."
"Velsh'nark-ectolf," replied the alien.
The translator didn't attempt to translate the language.
"Velshnark?" repeated Yukiomaru horribly ruining the accent, one of his ears tilted slightly.
The alien at first gave a disapproving look but then thought on it for a moment before saying, "Velshnark acceptable."
Yukiomaru smiled, and Velshnark returned the smile. The Admiral turned to leave the room, and the alien turned to pick up the recording device that fell during the incident.
Once clear of the medical facility, Yukiomaru spoke out loud, "Thank you for keeping the security forces away, Fury. It could have turned into a disaster if they came running in."
"Yes, Admiral," Fury replied. "I've been attempting to track the alien and its ship but I can't find any evidence of how it got on board or how it got off."
"So it did leave the ship then?"
"Yes, I scanned everything using a low frequency bursts that was successful in detecting it in the medical facility. All scans came up negative."
"You found a way to track them?"
"It is rough and can lead to false readings but I do believe I found a method that can track these stealthy creatures," answered Fury. "On another note, there's some activity detected following the course we are following now."
"What sort of activity?"
"Unknown, but there's definitely space-faring life ahead. It can possibly be the alien's race, so we can return him to his own people."
"Hopefully," said Yukiomaru. "It seems to be a dangerous thing to ferry any member of any race around with us. Anyway, I want to speak with Jun Fa. He might have some insight on the behavior of the two aliens just now."
"I'll have him report to your office immediately," informed Fury. "He's concerned about the alarm so I assume he'll be pleased to learn that everything is okay."
Fury also sent the recordings of the incident to his personal computer. Yukiomaru was able to quickly review the attack and try to trace where the attacker came from. It was impossible to discover how the attacker even entered the sealed room. Jun arrived before Yukiomaru could finish his search. Together they reviewed the recording until they were confident they learned all they could about the incident currently. Before Tang could leave, Commander Yelena entered his office too.
"Admiral," she started without bothering with any greeting. She was obviously tired, having not slept since her shift ended a few hours ago. "We've searched the ship and Fury scanned around the hull but it looks like the 'Stealth' fled already."
"'Stealth'?" repeated the Admiral, giving her a quizzical look.
"It's one some of the crew have started calling them," replied Yelena, taking a seat next to Jun. "I have no idea how it got on the ship or got off. Tang is looking into it. Can I see the attack?"
Replaying the video for the meerkat, Yukiomaru watched it with her from the moment he entered the medical facility to when he left.
"It obviously targeted the alien, Velnark," commented Yukiomaru. "Jun agrees with me that these two races have had their share of conflicts in the past."
"Twice now you've saved others from an attack," replied Yelena, leaning back in her seat. "Luckily no one has targeted you. You're probably too small for the enemy to consider a threat."
Yukiomaru's lip curled slightly at the mockery that he hasn't received from Yelena almost since they started this mission.
"Luckily no one has been injured," Yukiomaru said slightly irritated but doing his best to ignore the mockery. His eyes were drawn to his computer screen. "If you both will excuse me, Drach'n Breath is requesting a debriefing."
"Yes sir!" Yelena left the room, followed by Tang to leave the Admiral communicating with the carrier. Hours went by on the shipboard time clock, with the Admiral constantly speaking with someone around the ship or filling out some sort of report that Fury and others requested from him.
Later that shift, after Yukiomaru had been awake for nearly thirty hours, he found himself in his room once again. He wandered to an open area of his quarters and assembled a training program for himself. Some of the targets were holographic and would respond to his movements.
Unbuttoning and removing his uniform, Yukiomaru dressed down into the silky linens that he wore underneath. They didn't restrict movement by being tight, or by getting in the way. Yukiomaru preferred these clothes when training.
Two hours went by before Yukiomaru was panting on the edge of his bed. In a short minute, he recovered from the strenuous exercise enough to clean up his room. He removed the rest of his clothes and placed them, with his uniform, in a specialized compartment that would clean them for the next day.
Lying down on his bed, he rolled over on his stomach, arched his back and stretched with a yawn in a very foxlike way. He then curled up on the bed and closed his eyes, the lights automatically shutting off.
Late in his five hour sleeping cycle, Fury unexpectedly woke him up.
"Admiral!" Fury said calmly but with the speaker volume turned excessively high.
Slow to wake up from a deep sleep, Yukiomaru sat up and checked the time. Yelena had command of the ship for another six hours. What did Fury want?
"Yes Fury?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.
"You better get up," he said. "Our guest is trying to gain access to some of our systems on the bridge."
Yukiomaru jumped out of bed, threw his clothes on roughly and immediately headed out the door. "Where's Commander Yelena?"
"She's with him," answered Fury. "But he refuses to stop."
"Make sure she doesn't do anything rash," Yukiomaru suggested, running down the corridors.
What would have normally took him five minutes to walk; Yukiomaru reached the bridge in less than thirty seconds.
"Velsh'nark," yelled Yukiomaru the moment he entered the room. Fury took the liberty to translate for them. "What's wrong? What're you doing?" He noticed that the alien was still without any clothing, and assumed that some cultural differences were the reason why it wasn't shy about its nudity.
"We're close to danger," he said, Fury's updated translator proving more successful. The alien looked like a youngling first learning how to type on a keyboard, while he pecked at the keys. "The enemy fleet is near." His eyes didn't leave the screen while he tried to interpret it before pecking again at a random key. "How do you work this?"
Yelena stood behind the alien, her arms folded but her eyes and ears alert to the actions of the alien. She was obviously displeased. All of her duties were interrupted to watch this alien.
"Allow me to sit," Yukiomaru said, taking the seat of the alien. He himself was still only half-dressed. "What are you trying to do?"
"Look at the nearest star system," said Velsh'nark, leaning over and pointing at a star map that he somehow was able to bring up. "I don't know how well numbers will translate but look at planet in the habitable zone. I think it'll be the first one orbiting the star."
Taking control over Fury's scanning systems, Yukiomaru manually surveyed the nearest star system. Although the screen was large, it was difficult to distinguish the details and nothing looked amiss. He attempted to get a three-dimensional reading of the area but at this range it would take a while for the scan to complete.
"What enemy is it?" asked Yukiomaru while he waited. The holographic imagers near the front of the bridge came alive. They haven't been used since Fury used them to review the attack from the first encounter with the Stealths.
Curiously glancing back over his shoulder, the alien watched the three dimensional images come to life before he answered. "The same of the attack earlier."
"How do you know that they're close?" Yukiomaru wondered, putting his paws together while he thought. "Do you know where we are?"
"I can see the stars," he answered, standing straight again. He towered over Yukiomaru, so he stepped a few large steps back. "I know where their world is at. I scouted it by following an... infestation." The translator struggled with the word for a moment. "My fleet is moving to eradicate the infestation but the enemy has been resisting."
"Infestation?" repeated Yukiomaru, turning back to the computer screen in front of him. He pulled up the video of the attack on Tang and one of the guards, and played it. "Is this the infestation you're talking about?"
The alien stood rigid at the sight of it, but looked solemnly at the video. "Yes," came the translation but the tone was full of emotion. "The female... She was my pilot. A good pilot for many... years." The translation again was rough but was able to correct itself. The solemn expression turned to a solemnly satisfied expression when he saw Yukiomaru kill the infested alien in the video. "You did mercy."
The three-dimensional image finished, drawing the alien to it, followed closely by the displeased Commander, and the more patient Admiral.
"This planet," pointed out the alien. "It's colonized by civilians. An infestation has taken root and now threatens to consume the planet." With more information being fed to the image, small bright spots blossomed on the surface. The alien reflexively withdrew his paw from the holographic planet. "They're attempting to contain the infestation but they will not succeed. No one has ever succeeded."
"There's a fleet in the system, Admiral," Yelena stated, turning the massive image to view another planet. There were several icons signaling unidentified vessels, and they were moving erratically. "It looks like another battle."
"The enemy attacked the outpost," the alien observed. "They believe they're protecting their civilians but they will die."
"Inform Drach'n Breath to standby," ordered Yukiomaru, finally finishing dressing himself with the clothes he hastily brought with him. "We'll assist in containing the infestation while the battle finishes at the outpost."
"I disagree," said the alien, turning to Yukiomaru. "Infestation gets on this ship, the fleet must destroy it. Don't get involved."
"Is the infestation here a serious contamination?"
"No," the alien admitted. "The fleet will burn it when the enemy stops interfering."
"The sooner we destroy this infestation, the less chance there is of any of my people becoming infested," replied Yukiomaru. "And we'll get you back to your own people."
"I will not argue," Velsh'nark concluded stepping away from the holographic image.
"Keep us clear of the battle at the outpost, and search for any signs of the infestation near the planet's orbit," the Admiral commanded. "I want all personnel to their battle stations. Fury, continue to monitor for the stealth ships. Drach'n Breath, launch your fighter squads to defend the ships, and stay alert of the Stealth aliens. Support Drach'n Fury."
"Yes sir," the commander of the carrier said over the intercom. Fury also acknowledged the order.
The dragon-like ship moved across the stars, with the larger falcon ship following. Far ahead of them, fire danced among the stars and on the only planet capable of support life in the star system but the star itself remained unaffected by the death.