Imagine a world covered in vast, primal forest. A world seeming uncivilized save for a lone space port sitting forgotten and dusty over by one of the oceans. A world of quiet trails and simple ways; of living with nature instead of taming it.* * *
Recently, though, the little space port hasn't been as abandoned as usual. If anyone were looking they would often see a few men of the local people standing at the edge of the pavement and watching the sky, or the long-legged children who thought this strange smooth surface to be a wonderful place for races. It would be clear to the watcher that those men were waiting for something, and, from the presence of the children and the antelope that sometimes peeped out of the undergrowth, that they'd been waiting for quite some time.
"Hey, there are people on the landing pad." Starfighter's avatar perked with curiosity as he scanned.
"What kind of people?" Shade looked up from gently squishing Mutt as the bat pup wriggled and squeaked gleefully.
"Your kind of people." Starfighter showed an image on his view screen, the avatar stepping aside to give the picture room even as he frowned with concern. "I thought you guys didn't hang around the port."
[Don't usually.] Mist frowned too as she studied the image. But then she perked and waved a hand excitedly. [Shade! Shade! Is Greatheart, Ironwind, and Sunflash! Is big brothers!]
"It is!" Shade danced slightly with excitement. "I wonder what they're waiting for."
[Why do they have little brothers and sisters with them?] wondered Mist, watching as the three men herded the children off the field.
"Well, since nobody down there has a comm, there's only one way to find out." Starfighter gently lit on the battered rubber pavement, and then opened his hatch. "Want me to stay out of the way?"
Shade snorted at him absently, knowing what the question meant after his half hour of exclaiming at all the trees as they'd flown from their entry point to the space port. "You're coming out and seeing the trees."
"Ugh." The avatar vanished from the screen and rezzed into sight behind Shade and Mist. "So mean."
[You're weird,] Mist told him cheerfully after backing out of her stanchion. [Trees not eat you.]
"Hey, I showed you those pictures of the old transports in the forest." He shuddered as he signed and spoke.
[Graveyard. That's different.] She walked over to rear and smooth his cheeks, then looked toward Shade as the darker sister perked and headed for the door. [And not this forest anyway. No old transports here.]
Starfighter grumbled, but then sighed and grinned as she poked him in the belly before trotting after Shade. "I kinda miss the walking rug. It was nice having another guy around to take a little of the abuse."
"You're not abused," said Shade absently as she paused on the pavement and looked toward a deep-voiced, joyful shout. "Greatheart! We got you a job!"
"A job?" The tan brother trotted up, his hands moving in Shade and Mist's old signs. "Do I need a job?"
[Other people need you to have a job,] said Mist in the same language. Then she reared and put her front feet on his lower shoulders so that she could look him in the eye. [People want... sign marks... about...] She paused and frowned, then looked at Shade and spoke in GSL. [Old signs don't say what I want to say.]
"We didn't have as much to talk about when we made them," agreed Shade from where she was play challenging the lighthearted Sunflash to a fight, her hands flashing in time with her voice.
"Hey," said Sunflash, golden eyes bright with curiosity in his pale blonde face. "You have more signs now."
"Yup," said Shade, grinning as she reached into her pouch and pulled out holochips. "And books to teach 'em to you guys."
"Will the books teach us to read them too?" Sunflash took one and activated it, then perked. "Oh, this is our symbols. I can work out what this says."
Shade trilled softly, and then stomped her hoof and scowled at the last brother. "Ironwind, you are NOT fighting with Starfighter's avatar."
"Why not?" The burly, dark chestnut brother gave her a confused look. "I fight with all the guys."
"Not him. He doesn't like getting hit," said Shade firmly.
"Um... who is he, anyway?" asked Sunflash uncertainly, his ears twitching. "Did he steal you?"
"Ffff! No. He's my and Mist's ship, and our brother." Shade snorted at him.
"Oh good," said Greatheart, smiling again. "Because Dat went through a lot of work to find a nice guy and steal him for you and Mist in your name."
"What?" [What?] "Oh rust, no." The three members of Starfighter's crew stared at the big tan man with various expressions of shock and anger.
Greatheart and his brothers' smiles faded at their reactions, changing to bewilderment and disappointment.
"But we've been waiting for a ship for weeks so that we could send him to you," said Sunflash softly, his cheek fur puffing slightly. "Dat chose a quiet guy who likes to study and raise quail didis instead of fight. It's Silverbark, from Crownjumper's herd."
"First In Spring and Grows In Snow asked him to do it," added Greatheart, frowning. "They said to make sure to choose someone cuddly."
"Who are First In Spring and Grows In Snow?" asked Starfighter past his scowl.
[Mothers,] said Mist, frowning. [Birth mothers.]
"Do you know this Silverbark guy, Cap?" Starfighter turned to Shade.
She nodded. "We used to play together as little children. He always played a girl when we made pretend herds, so he wouldn't have to fight. He's good at fighting, but he hates doing it. And he knows Mist's old language."
Starfighter's scowl deepened. "Well he can't just barge in uninvited."
Shade frowned at him, and then tipped her head in a no. "He's been taken in my name. That means he's my husband. Or it would mean he's my wife if I were a man and he were a woman."
"Fffft! You don't need a husband any more than I need a wife. And I'll get one of those when the void freezes over." Starfighter turned his head and scowled at the three brothers, then noticed the pale dun man who stood uncertainly a little behind them and scowled at him too. "What kind of guy lets himself be claimed by a girl?"
"You did," said Shade shortly.
"That's totally different!" squawked Starfighter, his avatar's eyes widening comically.
She shook her head and folded her arms across her chest, then perked slightly as she watched Mist walk over to Silverbark and greet him. The way the shy boy's face lit up went straight to her hearts, as did his gentle and hopeful smile as he gently put a little white quail onto Mist's upper shoulder.
[Pet.] Mist smiled, and then gently poked her sunflower pup before telling Silverbark about it.
Silverbark watched intently, then hesitantly signed in reply, telling her that he had raised this quail just for her, because it was the same colour as her. His hands slowed as he looked at her face to see what she thought of the gift.
Mist, for her part, laughed her soundless laugh and then turned toward Starfighter's avatar. [Silverbark is pretty. We're keeping him.]
"Don't I get a say in this?" asked Starfighter bitterly. "What happened to me being crew with a share of crew business?"
"You're outvoted," said Shade. "If Mist wants him, then we keep him."
(notes)Later on Starfighter's wife finds them. Pretty little pale mauve with gold trim fighter jet with a sweet and innocent personality.