Sahnassa screamed in terror as she held onto the grab bars in Vanarra’s golden hover, it wildly pitching in ways she’d not even imagined a traditional trail vehicle managing. As they finally came to a stable stop, right side up, the mixed blood stated, “And that, my dear kit, is a drifting reverse inversion with an overthrust flip left followed by a high acceleration reverse direction and overthrust used in combination with a high-gravity bank left.”
“My … my stomach got lost on that one!” Sahnassa quavered. “I thought we were going to die!”
“The point, Sahni, is to keep from dying. Say someone’s following you, being a real pain. You’re worried they might even try to run you off the trail so they can rob you or worse. As they are closing, that quick counterthrust turns you to face them which will put most pursuers on their guard thinking you are either going to ram them or fire something really nasty at them. They slam on the breaks killing their speed, you flip two lengths over to get out of the way, and then overthrust up banking away and to the left. If you can pull that stunt off right, I mean in the right area, they won’t have any idea where you went. My favorite spin on the little jewel is to push all my forward lamps to hi-beams just as swing to face them. The flash blinds them for a moment. Consequently,” Van offered smirking, ”when fighting paw to paw, I’ve sort of used the same … move.”
Sahni was feeling a little dizzy and disoriented, but she knew she should still try to get was Van was hinting to tell her. “Hold it, how do you flash…” At that moment, she looked over at Van who was gently cradling her chest in both her paws bearing a huge and satisfied smile. “Oh, really, Van!”
Vanarra laughed but shook her head at the same time. “Hey, it worked! Sight of these in the fur stunned two males who didn’t realize I was about to jump off the transport half a tick later. My flip was a little bit graceless, but thankfully I landed in water. They didn’t want to follow.”
“Was this recently?”
“No, no, kit. Back when I was on my own, even before I met Ash. It was the only way I was able to sync up to what Sarl was trying to teach me. The truth is that when he first did that maneuver for me in his vehicle, I was as stunned as you were … or are. You gonna be okay, kit?”
The Nephti closed her eyes and waved her paw. “Just don’t move the hover for a bit. Maybe, we can just sit and kind of … rest for a bit. How do you do those things and not kill yourself?”
“Remember, rehearse, and refine – something Sarl taught me. First, those moves are something that I have on this little flip card here. When I’m stuck in traffic or waiting for someone to show up like a client, I pull them out and go over them with the power off. The only thing I can equate it to is dancing or fighting. Each of these sequences, like this one, are like dance moves – many steps done quickly to arrive at a specific result. Look at the big arrows.”
Sahnassa held the card and looked at it. She had to admire Van’s skill in putting this together. The front and back of the card were covered with tables of moves. Each move had big arrows indicating what the move would do: quick turn left, quick turn right, jump behind pursuer, jump over hover-sized obstacle, and so forth. Then, there followed a series of color-coded steps. “It’s … like a recipe’ book, almost or, for those who play sports, a whisk playbook.”
“I kind of think so, too, but it’s not as simple as you see. There is lots of practice and timings involved to make each move come out just right. That’s because trying to remember the steps under pressure is hard. After all, I can’t drag out the card when someone is about to stick their nose under this thing’s tail and try to put me in the ground. Also, you can’t get a hover that does these things easily. If you mention you want overthrust, straight out, to the Thurian selling you a hover, the answer will always be no.”
“Oh really? What do you have to do – use some secret code word or something?”
“Well,” Van told her, “the truth is only about fifty percent of what I get on my hover comes from the dealership. I mean, you get the standard stuff from them like basic thruster packs, nicer interior, maybe a nice gadget or two for the control panel, but that’s not where you really go. See, there’s only one other place where overthrust is used outside of enforcement – hover racing.”
“Okay, I still don’t get it. What – how do you get racing equipment?”
“Well, believe it or not, even in Shanandrae there are at least two major race-hover supply stores, and they have it all. See, I don’t so much have enforcement overthrust as I have racing quality hover packs, power plant, and stability controls combined with one of their racing control systems. It interlinks a lot of the controls and allows me to program certain presets. Racers use it to manage tight curves or pass someone, but when set up like I was taught, it allows you to do some really amazing stuff.”
Sahnassa just shook her head in appreciation until a certain financially impactful thought made itself know. “Hold it. Let me get this right. You buy a new hover, take it to one of the racing places, and you tear out the thruster packs, the control system, power packs, too?”
“Yep, racing quality power packs – top of the line, actually,” Van told her proudly.
“Van! It’s like you’re tearing out half the hover!”
“Well, kit, believe it or not, there is actually a bit of sense to it. See, I check out my hovers before I buy them, and part of the equation I use is the resell value of the parts. Now, you are right; I don’t make money. However, there is quite a market for the right parts from the right vehicles. Take this one, for example. Someone with a hover not unlike your own might be looking to do a little conversion – make it more responsive or racy, give it an edge with a nice new set of high powered sports thrusters. They’ll enjoy them, pay me almost what I paid the dealer minus labor, and while I’m still paying a bit of a premium, the parts I’m tossing aren’t lost. That, and I end up with a hover that can do this!”
Vanarra punched the accelerator forward and pressed several presets with a wicked grin as, again, Sahni held on for all she was worth. The hover zipped by several warehouses, but as it approached one alleyway, the mixed blood yanked the controls hard while keying several preset keys just under her pawfingers. The wild and disorienting maneuvers suddenly had them resting, tail first, on top of a loading dock several tracks off the ground inside of the building. “What?! We’re … we’re inside?”
“Yep, tucked away as nice as you please. While we were driving around I saw they had this one opened, and there wasn’t anyone nearby.”
“Yeah, except for … that guy,” Sahni noted, pointing at the somewhat consternated Pantera with a construction helmet and a rolled up paper.
“That’s interesting. This is usually abandoned,” Van noted dryly. “Not a horrible looking cub, though.” Lowering the window on Sahnassa’s side, she called out to him while he was still a few tracks away. “Sorry about that! Being a bit of a show-off.”
“You should be sorry!” he growled. “If I had my crew up here, you could have run right over them, crazy stunt that it was!”
“Well, no, actually. I couldn’t have. You ever heard of a sounding sensor?”
That actually stopped him. “On a … on a hover?”
“Yes, dear cub, on a hover. Anything doesn’t make clearance on one of my little maneuvers and a back-out program stalls the move well away from harming anyone.”
“Wow. Really?” he asked, his blush furs raising a bit. “Uh, can I ask where you got it. See, I’m the safety representative for the construction firm that’s going to redo this place, and we don’t have … anything like that on our equipment. We’ve had two on our team hurt because vehicles backed into them.”
“Not cool,” Van mouthed more than said. “Hey, give me a tick to set down, and I’ll give you the contact where I go.” He nodded and backed up. Vanarra landed the hover and stepped out to meet him, her paw in her pocket, Sahnassa noted, and taking the hint, she put her paw on her own stunner the moment she stepped out of the vehicle. “Have a seat and key the top right … yeah, right there. Now, watch as Sahni walks around the hover.”
The Pantera, tight fit as it was, watched enthralled as Sahnassa moved into and out of the hover’s close range, especially in front and behind. “Okay, that’s pretty amazing. What does the unit run?”
“About six thousand or so, however it is worth it.”
“If you would have seen our medical claims, yeah, totally.” He slipped out and stood facing Vanarra, her head tilted down and eyes just barely lifted up to meet his. “Uh, what about I forget that little stunt you did, and you set me up with the contact info for whoever installed that for you. We add that to our utility hovers, and we’d probably cut accidents by about half or more.”
“It would be my honor to help,” she told him, and that surprised the purebred male a little.
While she was taking out her PawLink to find the number, Sahnassa approached him and offered, “Hello. I’m Sahnassa de Orturu. Nice to meet you; my friend’s name is Vanarra.”
“Nice to meet you both. I’ve been walking around in this place trying to figure out how the new owner’s vision of bringing the transports into the warehouse was going to work without Thurians being run down or blasted over right and left. This could really help.”
“Here you go, sweetie,” Van offered, showing him the entry, all the while not maintaining eye contact.
“Thank you,” he said, taking an image of her display with his own PawLink. “That … will help. Now, I hate to do this, but you two are both sort of on private property.”
“No problem, and our apology,” Sahnassa offered, stepping up next to Vanarra. “My friend was demonstrating some of the unique properties of her vehicle.”
“Yeah, I had no idea that a trail-approved hover could actually do those things.”
“You’d be surprised,” Van told him as she bowed and then stepped back to her hover and entered. As they drove away, the mixed blood sighed. “Damn, and that was a good place to play, too. I’ll have to find another one.”
“Poor guy,” Sahnassa noted. “Out here during the sols of feasting. Not fun. What a crappy boss he must have. Makes me grateful how good I’ve got it.”
“At times you have to wonder, kit.”
Sahnassa leaned back into the seat and closed her eyes. “No more wondering, Van. Well, maybe about one thing. As we have to go back to work tomorrow, I was kind of wondering if you could tell me a little about how Sarl … left?”
Vanarra tilted her head a little in a somewhat fatalistic manner and offered, “I suppose I can. Not … my favorite memory, especially given how I think he ended up, but if you wish.”
“Only if you feel you can, Van. It’s up to you. I’m curious, but that doesn’t obligate you to anything.”
“Yeah, and I like that about you a lot. I … enjoy sharing with you because you protect what I tell you, and you don’t like think of me as a horrible individual. Thanks, kit.”
“Okay, he’d taken me to the racing places, shown me how to work the dealers and so forth, and even helped me find my first little playground…” Vanarra stopped talking and swallowed before blinking her eyes a few times.
“I … can I make a request, Sahni?”
“Please,” the Nephti responded, unable to miss the emotional look in her friend’s expression.
“I thought I … I could talk about this, and I can, but I’ll skip the parts that … matter. I’ll glaze over them, keep it to facts and just—“ Vanarra stopped the hover and looked at Sahnassa for a long moment. When she broke eye contact, the words she spoke were clearly said with great effort and a strenuous control over her emotions. “I don’t just enjoy sharing with you, Sahni – I need to. I really, really need to, and I haven’t told … anyone, and I need to and – you don’t have to, but I—“
Sahnassa wrapped the mixed blood’s paw in her own paws. “Want to take us back to your lair so we can sit down and tell me?” Van closed her eyes, and tears squeezed out as she nodded. “I will listen to whatever you need to tell me for as long as you need, and I will keep what I hear as a secret and … a treasure … between us.”
Vanarra put her head in her paws at that point and cried. “Thank you, Sahni. Thank you. I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have to—“
“Saved my life; taught me to defend myself; made sure I understood what that meant. Yeah, I have to. I have to for you, okay?”
Vanarra nodded jerkily trying to regain her composure. “Would mean a lot to me, kit, but it may get into subjects that, you know, make you kind of blush a little – a lot.”
“Fine. Again, let’s get back safe, and then I will listen. I promise to be your friend, after.”
A paw reached out from Vanarra and wrapped itself around Sahni’s back and neck in as much of a hug as the vehicle restraints would allow. “I’m grateful for you, kit,” she whispered. “Just … thank you. Thank you.”
“Gonna put some music on for the ride, and then when we get in, give me a few passes to change and get myself together and then I’ll come out and talk, ‘kay?”
They listened to the soft, soothing music as Vanarra drove them back with uncharacteristic care and gentleness. When they entered the garage, Van left the hover and went inside, leaving the door open for Sahnassa who hadn’t even really gotten out of the hover just yet. “Wow, I … I feel really crappy about asking, now.”
She made sure the hover was all closed up and that the doors were secure before making herself and Van cups of choamal tea – something she knew Van resorted to only on the rarest of occasions. This time, however, seemed to be well worth it.
After a few passes, Vanarra emerged from her bedroom in soft shorts and a soft short sleeved shirt, her eyes open and just staring at the ground in front of her. Sahnassa met her in the den and gave her the tea, receiving a nod as thank you before both sat and sipped. At the same moment, they both tried to speak, and Van deferred by pointing at the Nephti, still having a difficult time looking at her.
“I was going to say that I feel bad that I’ve asked you about something painful, and I will listen to you if you wish to tell me, but I would never push you to give up your secrets.”
“I … have to come to realize, kit, that I need this, but I can’t force you to listen to me—“
“I’m your friend, and I will. So, I am listening.”
“You are my closest friend, you little purebred, you,” Van taunted gently, not able to look at the Nephti just yet, but her smile was warm and softened the edge of the mixed blood’s disquieted spirit. “Sarl and I were together for almost three moons, and I … had started to change. As more time went by, you see, I got more training from him, and he took what he wanted from me, but it wasn’t just taking. Something happened to me that never has happened before or since. I started to truly … like to submit to him.” There was a flash of eyes up in Sahnassa’s direction, but as the Nephti was unshaken by what she just heard, Van felt safe to continue.
“See, when I find a new hunt, I bring them back here, mess around with them a little – kissing, licking, feeling up and the like, but then I take the initiative when it comes to mating. I push them into it, nearly, and when it starts, I’m not just the lay back and take it type. I go after them almost … rapemating them. You can do that to a male, and it’s kind of what I do – unless they scream no or something, which they never do. It’s what I’ve always done until Sarl. I know it would be the biggest joke in the office to hear that someone actually put Van in her place and, what’s worse, made her want to stay there. Sarl did that to me. He … he tamed me.”
Again, a stolen glance brought out a sigh of relief from Vanarra. The Nephti wasn’t shocked, amused, or disgusted – only interested and concerned. Van’s smile deepened a little as she looked away, and she could feel her link with Sahni attenuating as it had upon their reconciliation after the worst fight they ever had. By accepting her story and humiliated confession, she felt an acceptance which was utterly endearing to her, and in the warmth she felt from her friend, Van was able to continue.
“I was still a good boss for the business, I guess – aggressively selling and charming clients and jumping all over everyone to get things done. All that stuff I still did. All that stuff was still the old Van until I got home. When I got home, though, I was his. It wasn’t always sexual, but a big part of it was that. Still, I’d defer to anything he told me to do, listen to what he said and not argue or even … disrespect him in any way. Anyone, if they had seen me with him, wouldn’t have recognized me. I changed for him, and I can remember kneeling in front of him because he told me to, and I … liked it. It’s not been that way with anyone else, and I’ve experimented a little just to see. Not the same.”
“Why, Van?” Sahni asked softly. “What made it different with him?”
The mixed blood was silent for a few ticks and then admitted, “I was in awe of him. He introduced himself to me by keeping my life from falling apart. The more I learned from him, the more I was afraid of him, respectful fear. He didn’t threaten me. He didn’t have to. I watched him spar with Kylie once, and I could tell he was letting her get away with things that if they happened outside of a gym, he would have likely … ended her life. I could see those moments flash across his eyes, those moments where he remembered killing another Thurian just like you or I might remember how to do something like bake a cake or set up a server. It was something so easy that the impulse to do it had to be struggled against. I came to know he was a very, very dangerous … protector.”
“Not many protectors have been there for you, have they?” Sahnassa asked, picking up on the tone of caution which was salted with a kind of reverence that didn’t often come from Vanarra’s muzzle.
Van shook her head in agreement with her friend. “No. Only my Mom. Only Ash, and as of late, you, kit – but in different ways. All in different ways.”
“It sounds like Sarl was something like a mythical beast in a sundream tale – a powerful creature that could destroy you but chooses, for some reason, to protect you even if it still intimidates you.”
Vanarra nodded and bobbed her head, a little. “Yeah, kinda. For a few sols before he told me he was leaving, I was living in this kind of other world with him. It was sort of like if he had decided to stay, I would have just become more and more his, and not as an equal – not in any way an equal, but for the first time in my life, maybe the only time, I would have accepted that. He had taught me everything he wanted to, and it was almost as if we were living this weird version of mated life. I saw a desperation in his eyes I never saw before except for that first time when I met him at the cross-trail. It was like he was toying with making some decision, at first, but then it just seemed to eat at him. Finally, one sol – the last one – I could tell he had decided.”
“I … got back to my lair after an event, not too late, and when I walked in the door he was standing there, nothing on but those black boxers of his. He told me to drop everything right there – everything – and I did. He grabbed me, put me in binders with my paws behind my back, leaned me over the sofa and took me. What’s worse is that I was completely ready for it, wanted it, felt … honored to have his attention like that. Then, when he was done, he brought me into the shower and was with me in there, too. When he ordered me into the fur dryer alone, still cuffed, I did my best to give him a show. Half way through he nodded in approval and stepped away. I finished drying myself, and the moment I was done, he was there. He took me and led me into the bedroom, released the cuffs but then bound my arms above my head, spread on the bed. Then, he talked to me.”
“What did he say?”
“He told me that a job had come up, one he had thought about a lot and almost refused, but in the end, individuals in his profession had to take the most rewarding propositions if they wanted to stick around for any length of time. There were so many possible meanings to that, but I get the sense that actually staying alive was part of it. He told me that he would be gone several moons if not forever, and that while he had enjoyed being with me and wanted it to continue, there had to be a limit on how long our time together would be. Any more, he warned me, and I might start to attract attention I wouldn’t want.”
“Like … other killers?”
“Or the authorities,” Van commented, nodding. “Either way, he was probably right. We had been getting far out of Shanandrae, sometimes, to spend time together, but there was always a chance of being seen, I suppose. What happened then was something that startled me, touched me, and taught me that things I thought were impossible for me aren’t always. He told me to stay quiet, and that he was going to talk, and I was not to answer back.”
Van, you’re the closest thing to a lair mate I think I’ll ever experience. You’ve got a good soul – much better than mine in so many ways, and if it were possible for me to just step out of the life I’ve been living, I think I would spend it with you. I’ve treated you … not always with respect, but you always have treated me with that – probably in ways you shouldn’t have. So, this will be our last night, and I’m sitting here on the edge of the bed trying to convince myself that this was all about you paying me back for stepping in – saving you. If so, I can’t figure out why I feel like the one who owes, now. I want you to know that’s how it is with me, and … thank you. Now, I am going to spend time treating you like you should be treated, and when it’s over, I’m going to put a tissue cloth over your face. What you breathe in will put you out until morning. When you wake up, you’ll be free, and … I’ll be gone. It has to be that way; for all of the times you respected me in the past and what I said, make this the last one.
“I should have said no, right? I should have answered back. It wasn’t what he wanted, and I was too afraid of him, afraid and respectful of him, to do anything other than what he told me to do. So, for the next few intervals, he made love to me in a way that was completely different than anything we had ever done. For those moments, we were a mated couple – vows in place and joined under the covering of honor. If not honor, then destiny. I let him do anything he wanted, and that included me accepting the tissue cloth placed over my muzzle and mouth. The last thing I remember as my vision faded out was looking up into his eyes, and when I did, I swear to you that he was crying.”
“What happened after that? Were you okay?” Sahni asked.
“I woke up just like he said, but then I started kind of getting up and looking around. He had dressed me in fresh clothes and washed anything that was dirty, dried it. Everything was vacuumed, and all of the food he liked had been thrown out, and not just thrown out – I couldn’t even find it in the garbage. The things he used in his fur, lotions and the like, had just vanished. As I knelt down, I even saw that the door knobs and grip bars around the place had been cleaned. It was like he took the most amazing care to remove any hints of his presence from my lair. The only verifiable evidence that he had been there was what … well, he left inside of me. I’ll be honest; I cried for intervals. It was so strange and twisted and weird and amazing, and I now had those projectile weapons, a new hover – all wiped clear of his prints, every strand of his fur vacuumed away.”
Sahnassa looked at Van and then stood to walk to her, sit beside her. The sense of loss she felt from her friend’s inner being was profound, and so she wrapped her arms around her and held her. Van didn’t cry like she had earlier in the hover. She was just emptied, almost, confused. Where Vanarra couldn’t weep, Sahnassa did so softly on her behalf. More than ever she understood the horrible gashes in the mixed blood’s soul – the pain of abandonment. What Sarl had done to her was wrong, in a way, just using her. Looked at differently, he had stood in as a protector, not a father, but almost like a pack alpha found in the plains prowlers. The strongest who protected and dominated and ruled, and Van had, for the first time and maybe the last, felt at home beneath his paw, kneeling before him.
“As an Anati cast out, I’m supposed to crave being equal,” Vanarra whispered, her voice distant. “Why did I ever accept being less than that? Why was I ever happy with it, even content?”
Sahnassa knew it wasn’t a question that had to be answered. Vanarra might well spend the rest of her life trying to figure that out. However, leaning back, a tearful Sahni looked at her friend and told her, “Thank you for sharing that, Van. Your trust … means the world to me.”
Vanarra nodded, an embarrassed expression on her features. “I never really dealt with that until just now, kit. You helped heal my heart a bit by being here for me. Thanks.”
Sahnassa smiled, and the two of them just sat there holding each other’s paws for a long while. At some point, however, the Nephti’s head cocked to the side with a thought, and Van could make out what was happening easily. “Tell me, kit, please. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Van,” Sahni slowly began, “have you ever wanted something so badly, gotten it, loved it, but … in time you just kind of set it aside? You are able to kind of get … past it?” The mixed blood nodded in agreement. “Maybe this isn’t how it is for you, but I’ve wanted things in the past. I got them, and then, yes, I just kind of left them behind. They were so important to me, and now I barely can remember them. It’s part of growing up, only it hasn’t stopped when I stopped being a child. Maybe there are things we want or need, but they are only for a season of our lives. Maybe they answer questions about ourselves that may never be important ever again once they are answered.”
“Are you saying Sarl answered a question for me?” Van asked.
“Could you, now, accept being less than an equal if you were truly loved and protected?” Sahni queried softly, not looking her in the eyes. “I think you could. Will you? Will that be what you need all of the time? I think not so much, but Sarl taught you about yourself as a Thurian as much as he taught you about protection.”
“Strange to feel such a weak spot in me after fighting for so long to be strong, but I can see it, kit. I suppose I can. He answered a lot of questions for me and gave me a lot of assurance. It’s all just a little food for thought, I suppose.”
“Honestly Van, I think it’s more like a feast.”
Vanarra chuckled and hugged her dear friend tightly, a question long since unanswered inside of her now, at least, partially given meaning, and all from the kindness of Sahnassa.
The next morning was a regular work sol, but Vanarra took Sahni by her place to get some new clothes that wouldn’t suggest that the two had spent the last several sols together. It was mutually agreed that discretion would probably be best as the specter of office favoritism was sometimes difficult to shake in their relationship. The Nephti had gratefully returned Vanarra’s clothes when she got back into the hover, and then the two went to the office.
Calling a service hover brought a unsurprisingly slow response, it being right after the sols of feasting, but the answer when the mechanic arrived was somewhat amusing.
“What did you find?” Sahni asked as he, a skinny, shy Vulpi, knocked on the side of the door.
“Well, nothing’s really wrong with it, you see?” he told her, and that statement seemed to expel Van from her office in their direction.
“Hold up, cub. I tried to get that hover moving, myself, and didn’t get anything out of it.” Vanarra had already picked up on the fact he was disavowed, so he wasn’t going to escape her very direct attention.
“No, no,” he placated. “You’re right – it won’t go, but – well, if you’ll both please come and see, I can explain it.” A little reluctantly, they both followed him out. As he walked back over to the hover, he started laying it out for them as gently as he could. “The Plavette model economy hover had a few interesting features – kind of the manufacturer’s test bed for a few new technologies and approaches. This one had an upgraded visual display.” Van’s stifled laughter caused him to chuckle as Sahni blushed, stewing. “Yeah, I know. Not something to really howl about, for sure – especially in these sols, but for the time and in that class, it wasn’t a bad upgrade. Say what you will, it does have readings for strut position and a few other things very few economy hovers had back then.”
Walking around to the driver’s side, he opened the door, but then squatted down so they could look over his shoulder. “If you see over here, the panel is all dark which isn’t going to sell many hovers if you’re a dealer. You need something that’s eye-catching, unusual. So, for the Plavette, they put a switch right here under the base of the dash which, if you flip it, allows you to put the entire hover in demo mode. See, it’s meant for having this thing sitting in a showroom, somewhere, and letting people crawl into and out of it all sol long marveling at how lovely the dash display is.”
“Demo … mode?” Sahni asked, just shaking her head. “This … trice cursed hover actually marooned me out here late at night because I…”
“Well, sort of must have bumped the demo switch. It’s right here. Put your paw there, but just let me back out of the way,” he told her. She squatted down and got into position, reaching where he told her to, and in a tick, all of the dash lights and marker lights flashed three times. “See, that’s supposed to catch the attention of the sales staff should anyone actually know about the switch and then toggle it. Because, if you’ll have a sit and start it up, you’ll see what I mean.”
“Alright,” Sahni agreed and then stepped inside. Closing the hover door, she belted in and keyed the start-up sequence – an action which had the normally expected result. After shifting the hover back and forth and forward and to the rear, Sahni again settled her fully operational hover to the ground.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” Vanarra huffed. “That’s a stupid tail-for-brains idea!”
“Yeah. First and last time they ever did it,” he told them as Sahni got out. “They had four hovers, just on Thuratan alone, go sailing out the window or through the offices or into other hovers in the showroom before they realized it was a really bad idea. Bunch of demo mode hovers are still out there, though, and sadly this is one of them. They’re kind of a rarity – would be a collector’s item if the rest of the vehicle … was…”
“Less like turf burrower droppings,” Sahni completed, a little sourly.
“Sorry, it’s just one of those models made in huge numbers; they get used, and go into recycling and come out as something else. No one ever keeps these once they break down – they’d never be worth anything at an antique hover show, not with so many vintage sports hovers around.”
“I can see that. Who wants to spend what it would take to keep this pathetic thing in showroom new condition?” Sahnassa agreed. “I’m sorry; I called you out here for nothing. I’ll happily pay the fee, though.”
“Yeah, I’d like to give you a break on that, but I really kind of need to make sure I’m bringing in some value. It’s one hundred fifty, I’m afraid.”
Sahni could see that Van was going to offer to pay, but she raised her paw. “I can do that, and I’ll happily add a little on top of that for not making me feel completely foolish.”
The Vulpi lowered his head and nodded. “Thank … thank you, Miss. Very kind of you.”
Vanarra could sense Sahni’s feelings towards the Vulpi and decided to add her own stamp to it. “Hey, just so you know, we’re a catering company, and at an event a little bit ago, we had some overages in terms of meals. How many are there in your crew?”
“Seven, ma’am,” he told her, humble and surprised.
“Well, I have that many left over, and I would be happy to part with them. Sound okay?”
“Wonderful, ma’am,” he answered, sniffing and blinking hard. “Wonderful.”
“Just a moment, cub, ” Van softly spoke to him and nodded to Sahnassa. As the two walked away, she whispered, “Look back at him. Your heart felt for him, didn’t it?”
“It does,” Sahni agreed. “He’s … thin and really smart and kind about how he told me about it. He’s struggling.”
“There are lots of us that are struggling, Sahni, but it’s really good of you to have a sensitivity to it. So many purebred avowed wouldn’t. I guarantee you that he has mixed bloods working with him, and they probably sent him out here because he’s the purebred. Think about how different he was than that Pantera I downed.”
“Huge difference. Mauft?” Sahni asked as they walked in. “I don’t want to impose, but we’re going to get some extra meals and give it to that mechanic out there. We could use a couple of additional paws?” Sahnassa was a little nervous as Mauft didn’t like being disturbed or asked for help from anyone but Van.
Mauft frowned, stood up, but then she saw the pitiful Vulpi in the hover lot. “Yeah. Okay, he’ll do.”
In a few short passes, Sahni was writing him a draft while Van and Mauft loaded the meals carefully into his transport. “I … I don’t know what I can do to thank you, Miss, please,” he said, embarrassed. “If I could, I would take this one off the books, but—“
“Everyone has to earn a living, sport,” Van assured him. “Just make sure you stay honest and kind while you do.”
He nodded to her and tried to say, “If this … job doesn’t work out for me, I’d wonder if I could, maybe—“
“Do your best where you’re at, as I can’t guarantee a job to anyone, but if you were in trouble, you already can guess the folks here would try to step in and help.”
“Thank you,” he told them, quietly. Looking at Sahnassa, he bowed to her – a quick, clumsy action that proved he’d never probably done that before in his life. She nodded back to him, and then he departed.
As they walked back into the building, Sahni asked Mauft, “I wasn’t sure you’d want to help us, but when you looked at him, you said you would. Can I ask why?”
“I could still see the cub in him, the young one. He wasn’t a hard-up mechanic earning too little; he was a hungry little lonely kid trying to feed himself,” Mauft answered and then stepped ahead at a quicker pace so she wouldn’t have to engage in anymore conversation.
“There are more shades to Mauft other than gray,” Van quoted silently. It was something she had often said of her grumpy admin.
“I can see that, and I think I can see her point. We ate ourselves silly over the last few sols, and he … didn’t,” Sahni observed. “I really wish it wasn’t so.”
“We fed him. It isn’t so,” Van concluded matter-of-factly. “I only hope that in time, it isn’t true as often for him. You know, Sahni, you saw that Vulpi, and he’s a little skinny thing – pathetic in a way, but he was honest with you. Mauft is right, and what we’ve been talking about over the past few sols – well, mainly who we’ve been talking about, made me think. Sarl was a hardened killer, and he had no child left inside; it had all been burned away by the horrible things he did. I can only imagine what he saw, and how it might have made him feel. I wonder about the guilt he felt, time after time, until maybe he didn’t feel it, anymore. Maybe, he didn’t feel anything much anymore. Maybe … that’s why.”
“Why he bothered to save me. It may have been one of the last things he did, but in saving me, he … he’s a part of every good act I’ll ever do.”
“I won’t speak of him, Van, but I will remember, and I will remember that you loved him. I’ll also remember that what he taught you also helped save me.”
“Thank you, kit,” the mixed blood breathed. “You’re the best.”