By the time Captain Amelia and Delbert returned with three half grown kittens and a puppy all very much after their parent’s patterns, things were already moving. Amelia closed the airlock and arrived…somewhere else with Tilda chattering in their ears. “Things took off rather faster than we expected once Ralf took over writing the general announcement to alert everyone on board as to what was going on, and Captain Milty found and enlisted the rest of his crew.”
Amelia had her son riding her left hip while one daughter held her right hand. Delbert carried their second daughter with her face buried in his neck under his floppy ear and restraining their third daughter’s urge to explore with a careful, but immovable grasp on her wrist. Tilda’s voice came from somewhere between the two adults, still clear through the restrained chaos in which they stood.
The newly reunited family stood in probably the only quiet corner left in one of the residential decks. They stood half hidden behind a large potted plant that helped frame a door between the long bit of hallway studded with doors on their left and a wide spot in the hall decorated with conversational groupings of furniture around sections of brightly colored rug, low tables, or raised fire pits that required no fuel and gave off only enough smoke to scent the air without lingering in people’s hair, fur, or clothing.
Every door along the hall gaped open wide. Some of the rooms beyond already stood dark and abandoned, but most had people of sizes similar to Amelia and Delbert but a wide variety of shapes rushing in and out with arms, wings, and claws full of the belongings they collected during their stay. Tilda had been very generous with new clothes, instruments, tools, books, and whatever else her unwilling occupants required to fill their time comfortably.
All along the walls a dizzying array of arrows and symbols glowed in a hyperextended rainbow of colors. As each person rushed passed, a certain arrow or symbol in a certain color shone out more brightly and slide to their eye level. In the common area small groups gathered under corresponding symbols and colors in one of the collections of furniture. Then, at some unseen signal or prompting the group vanished and a new arrow or symbol could blossom in its place.
“As you can see, we do not really need either of you to show people where to go, but Captain Milty, Monroe, Miltin, and Ralf have a task they are certain you and your children can help with,” Tilda said when Amelia and Delbert’s eyes and hands proved to busy taking in their surroundings and managing their four little ones to work their mouths.
“Are we going to go see the Mooses, Mama?” the puppy in Amelia’s arm asked, trying to look every way at once so as not to miss anything going on around them.
“Yes, Darwin.” Amelia smiled, bouncing the boy a little higher on her hip.
“Did you know we have story books with Mooses in?” Darwin asked excitedly, as if his mother had not read him every story book he owned at least once.
“Yes dear,” Captain Amelia said patiently. Then she really thought about it and exchanged glances with Delbert. They had not seriously made the connection before.
“Do you think we might get to visit the Star Child if we are a big enough help?” Little Amelia, or Amy asked, for the first time turning back to look up at her parents instead of tugging to get away from her father’s grasp.
“I do not know,” Amelia said, still looking at Delbert. There was a Captain Milty of the Star Child in some of the stories, and a Miltin, too, but they were just stories, or were they?
Before they could get too wrapped up in their family discussion, Tilda interrupted. “Let me set up a guide for you. I could have transported you right to them, but Monroe thought the young ones would like to see some of the ship along the way.” Suddenly, the great profusion of symbols, arrows, and colors on the walls faded out until only one remained. The stylised outline of a moose shown green on the wall facing towards the open space, with another a few feet further along.
“Can we go?” came a soft voice from Delbert’s shoulder.
“If even Violet has shown an interest, there can be no doubt,” a small definite voice said from the girl at Amelia’s side. Amy might have her mother’s bravery, but Jessica had the full measure of the Captain’s manner of command.
“Amy, you and Jess may lead the way, but only if you stay together and do not rush too far ahead.” Amelia released her grip and Jessica stepped forward to claim Amy’s free hand before Delbert released his grip. The two little girls led the way, running a few steps ahead then Jess pulled them to a halt to wait for the grown ups to catch up. Amelia let Darwin down, at his insistence, but he was content to hold his mother’s hand. That way he could look his fill without getting lost, or walking into things, while still being independent enough to walk for himself.
In this way, they crossed the common area, the moose symbol shifting from the wall to the floor in the open space. They passed people who seemed all made up of fresh grass bundles and a trio of singing snakes who harmonized while they slithered, carrying their belongings in colorful sacks on their backs. The incredibly brave sailors made of salt sat waiting their return to the open sea with exaggerated calm wearing cellophane suits as they could not stand getting wet.
A confusing jumble of people stood arguing with an image of Tilda on a wall screen. They insisted that they had, most definitely gone to sea in a sieve, and they liked it just fine the way it was. “We do not give a fig if it has holes in it!” one of them yelled. “We like it that way. Now, just put us back where you got us and stop trying to ‘fix’ our lovely craft.”
Once across the common area and into the next stretch of hall way, Amy and Jess darted around frogs and slugs and insects and hippos and seals following the little green moose symbol. A tall human with messy hair and a long chin wearing a bowtie dodged down the hall in the opposite direction yelling, “Geronimo!” A redhead with a cutlass wearing a hat and coat not unlike Captain Milty’s followed close on the bowtie’s heels with a long nosed gentleman a close third.
“Really should not be running with a drawn weapon in a hallway this crowded,” Darwin told his mother after she lifted him quickly out of their way.
“I don’t think it is at all sharp or nearly as sturdy as it looks. Tilda did not transport anyone on board with any weapons. Sofo complained about it quite loudly and how ridiculous his belt looked with nothing hanging from it. Those three would have had to find their own way aboard, like we did, and there are no other ships in this area of space,” Delbert said, watching a bashful band of pirates torn between wanting to barge down the hall and not wanting anyone to get hurt.
“There are no others according to the same sensors that said this ship is really quite small, dormant, and unpeopled,” Darwin said without looking at his father.
“He has a point.” Captain Amelia laughed.
As they walked down the hall the crowd thinned, all heading back the way the family came until the hallway blossomed out into another wide, common area, but quite unlike the dormitory-like space they saw before. To the senses, the six star sailors stepped from a ship’s passageway into the open air of a meticulously sculpted and maintained garden. They could smell the flowers, grass, and water from the small stream lacing throughout the space. Something very like sunshine warmed their skin, gentled by a touch of breeze. They could hear the play of the water in its stony bed and see the warm Spring colors. If they tried, every thing would taste just as it should as well, but the children were too well mannered to go randomly licking the landscape and too well fed to try eating rocks and flowers without good reason.
In a wide swath of grass near the garden’s center, two large sized groups huddled together facing a much smaller one consisting of the three Mooses. Ralf seemed to have disappeared, and Sofo lay spread out at the stream bank snoring softly, as far from the confrontation as he could without departing entirely. It was clear, if very odd, that the two big groups–each one made up of at least three generations of big families where even the children stood much taller than the Mooses–stood in a defensive huddle with the defenders in the front and the young and old in the back, as if the Mooses were threatening them in some way. A ridiculous idea.
Captain Milty stood with his back to the two families, and waved when he caught sight of the new group’s approach. Monroe and Miltin were sitting in the grass, the former reading and the latter writing, but when the captain waved they tucked their books away and quickly climbed to their feet.
“Where is Ralf?” Darwin asked when they were close enough he did not have to shout too much to be heard. He wanted to know the answer, but he did not want to get in trouble about it.
“She went with the ship she came upon. Once returned to their ship, the crew and officers were disinclined to wait. Ralf and Tilda decided that while the poor humans did not really have any choice in the matter, there was no need to rub it in,” Monroe said, smiling up at the boy.
“So what seems to be the problem here?” Captain Amelia asked, turning her gaze to include the two families as well as the Mooses. The family on the left was a homogeneous sort. They had male and female, young and old, but they all had similar shades of orange skin. Their eyes covered a relatively narrow range of dark blues and greys, with hair all shades of brown from nearly black to a tan so pale as to be almost white, and their features all showed a familial similarity. The family on the right showed much more variety in shape, like Amelia and Delbert, they showed aspects of fox, raccoon, and bear though all shifted to similar size. But while with Darwin, Amy, Jessica, and Violet, the different shapes bred true, in the larger family they blended, so you got a momma bear with a raccoon mask and a fox tail and a poppa raccoon with fox ears and hardly any tail, with children blends of the two.
“We have been trying to find out where these fine people want to go, as their ship’s systems have catastrophically failed while they have been aboard,” Captain Milty said waving at the huddle on the right. “And we are trying to get permission from these good folk,” he waved to his left, “To board their craft and enact repairs so that they may pick up their travels again, but they both refuse, and they will not say why.”
While the adults were focused upon Captain Milty, the children from all three sides managed to slip away from their parents to form their own group in the middle. As they talked quietly, stayed nearby, and seemed to be making no trouble, no one sought to interfere.
“If our ship requires repairs, let us do the work. We do not need your help,” a fox eared bear with a raccoon’s tail rumbled from the right hand group.
“But we have already told you that the atmosphere in your ship is both too thin and toxic until the repairs can be made, and you know very well that your suits are not capable of withstanding the conditions long enough to make the ship safe, especially since some of the damage is in areas much more our size than yours. I could have fixed your ship twice in the time we have spent arguing about it,” Miltin said waving his arms.
“And we have told you time and again, that the only place we want to go is home,” a tall, sturdy matron in the other group said. She had long tendrils of straight, chocolate brown hair that arced low to either side of her face with the ends caught up in clips at the back of her head.
“Yes, you tell us that you want to go home, but you will not give us the first idea where that is,” Captain Milty said, his pooves sunk deep in his pockets as he met her gaze steadily. “And when we ask where you were headed before you got stuck, you tell us there is no point in going there without the cargo which was lost with your ship.” The matron nodded to acknowledge the words, without adding anything new.
Monroe smiled wryly at Amelia and Delbert. “Ralf seemed to figure out the source of our impasse, and that you and your children could help, but that was right before the human captain of her vessel became obstreperous and she had to rush off without explaining. Do you have any ideas?”
Violet slipped back to her father’s side as Monroe spoke, and climbed back into Delbert’s arms in a move so common that he hardly noticed her presence until she answered the Moose, looking out at him from under Delbert’s ear. “Please do not let Farbled go back to his ship the way he says.”
“Is that the spokesperson for the furred ones?” Delbert asked. He had been about to ask if Tilda could provide them new suits better up to the task.
“He and the others who go plan to destroy the ship, and Murbla does not want him to go away forever that way.” Violet pointed at one of the little furry girls, who had much the same markings as her uncle.
“Why in the worlds would they do that?” Captain Amelia asked.
“So the rest of the family can stay here. If this ship starts sailing again, they can still trade and visit and do all the things they used to do, but on the BoteFlascheru there is so much more room and no worries about fuel or food, and it has trees,” Violet said, and while her voice stayed quiet, her tone said that the answer should have been obvious.
“Did any of the orange skinned children say why their parents will not answer our questions?” Monroe asked, aware that Captain Milty and Miltin had engaged the attention of both families to pull it away from Violet and what she might be saying.
“They are not trying to be difficult and are giving you the only answer they have. Their homeworld was destroyed a long time ago, but they knew it was coming and sent out as many families as they could in ships to try to find a new one, a new home like the old. Then they were supposed to send out a special beacon to call the survivors to it. Unfortunately, they no longer know how the beacon was made, so with their ship gone, even if they find home, they can no longer tell anyone about it. This makes the grown ups angry and sad and embarrassed, so they tell you the truth but do not explain,” Violet said with a slow shake of her head.
“Perfect,” Monroe said rubbing his pooves together.
“Perfect how?” Amelia asked, patting her daughter’s shoulder in mingled congratulations and thanks.
“Both families can stay on board and keep Tilda company, and their two missions will give her enough to keep her busy. She can not go back to the people who built her. They have issues with computers that can think for themselves, and with her history they are likely to tear her out and replace her with a new model that will do as it is told.
“Between Miltin and Tilda I am certain that the beacon can be repaired or replaced, and Tilda can reteach them any technology they have lost,” Monroe said glancing over at where the negotiations were still getting nowhere.
“So I helped?” Violet asked.
“You not only helped, you solved the whole mystery!” Monroe answered without hesitation.
“Then, do you think my brother, sisters, and I could visit Captain Milty’s ship before everyone goes their different ways?” Hope lit up Violet’s eyes.
“Little one, if your parents approve, I am certain Captain Milty will agree that you may not only visit the Star Child, but also help set the sails, and take a turn at the helm,” Monroe said and bowed to her with one poof over his heart.
For probably the first time in her life, everyone in the garden heard Violet clearly as she yelled, “Hooray!”