“Calm down? This is a disaster!” wailed Nightsky.
“It's bad but not that bad,” said Mike. “Captain Foster's going to let everyone know what happened and look out for us until we can get back home.”
“I'd say we're doing pretty good, considering,” added Dusk.
Nightsky rolled hir eyes. “Not him, this!” shi said, thrusting out hir hand to show the spaghetti-strap cami shi was holding. Shi, like the other teens who had ended up on the Folly, were getting ready for their first night aboard and most of them were stripping down; Nightsky and the other chakats were stripping completely.
“Let me get this straight,” said Redtail. “We sneak aboard the wrong ship, aren't found until it's already at warp, probably won't get back to Bright Hope and our families for two years, and you're worried about your top?”
“I can't wear it again tomorrow; it's dirty, and it reeks of fear!” insisted Nightsky.
Several of the teens groaned. Chakat Nightsky was the 'fashionista' in their group, always picking at what was worn. Most of the time it wasn't a problem and sometimes it could be a great help, such as hir knack for finding great stuff at true bargain prices. Shi was also a foil to the 'in' clique at school because they didn't intimidate hir and shi could point out every fake label they wore. But then there were times like this...
“Looks clean enough to me,” said Dusk.
Nightsky hissed in frustration. “Of course it does; I wasn't going to wear something that shows every speck of dust out to a ship. But we were supposed to be home by now; I didn't bring along anything for tomorrow!”
“If the captain doesn't want us walking around in our fur, it'll have to do until we get a change,” said CalmMeadow, the oldest (and largest) of the chakats. “We've all got that problem – nothing but what we were carrying. We're even stuck sharing combs – unless you want to ask the captain if you can borrow his.”
“Do you think he'd even let us use his comb?” asked Roseberry.
“But how are we going to get more clothes?” Nightsky all but whined as shi tried to hang hir top to air overnight.
“I'll ask Captain Foster tomorrow,” offered Graysocks, one of the foxtaur vixens. “Maybe he's got a crate of shirts or something he'll let us sort through.”
“Ask him about toothbrushes, too,” Alex said. “What?”
Cindy, whom had prompted the question by giving Alex an odd look, said, “Tonight I'm sleeping as far from you as I can, tuna-breath.”
“Sorry, Graysocks,” Neal told her when she'd approached him after breakfast. “Common clothing just isn't worth shipping between worlds on speculation. For one thing the styles change too quickly, and some never get accepted on other worlds. The only stuff I have is either freight or part of things like disaster relief kits. The former isn't mine to give and the latter, well, it's survival-level stuff. I don't think you kids would like it.”
“Sorry to have troubled you, Captain,” the foxtaur said, her tail drooping.
“Hold on, I didn't say I don't have anything.”
“Yes you did.”
“No, I said I don't have any ready-made clothing,” he explained, grinning. “That doesn't mean I've got nothing to offer – if you guys don't mind putting in a little effort. Can any of you sew?”
“Well, I can – a little, if you've got a sewing machine.”
“I think I've got one somewhere. Now as for personal care, I may not have fur, but I do still have enough hair that I need to take care of it and even bathe sometimes. And when I run short between ports, I have occasionally broken into a pallet for this or that, which considering how long I've been operating, means things have accumulated. See how many of your friends you can catch and I'll have Tess see what we can dig up.”
The foxtaur gave a little squee of happiness before impulsively hugging Neal, immediately backing off in embarrassment at having violated his ‘personal space’. She said a quick “Thank you” before taking off to catch her friends.
“Are you going to show them the chandlery or should I move it somewhere closer, Boss?” asked Tess over Neal's earpiece.
“Move an assortment of opened personal supply boxes from the shaft's long-term storage into one of the smaller lounges, Tess,” he replied. “I don't want them thinking I've made a regular habit of providing for crew or passengers. And break open one of the China pallets and put it in the hands-on workshop.”
“One of the China pallets?”
“Yes. Crack a pallet if we don't have one open already; I want to see how they react to it.”
Aboard the Folly, as with most ships, the conflict between necessity and utility meant there were a number of small internal cargo bays; the one nicknamed the chandlery was where assorted non-food supplies for use aboard were kept. Most of what was there had been deliberately purchased for that purpose, but some had arrived aboard as cargo just as Neal had said.
All of Neal's new arrivals made their way to the lounge at some point during the day, informed either by Graysocks or when Tess spoke to them through their new comm badges. They had an assortment of toiletries and sundries to choose from, along with bags to carry them. Graysocks was not among the first browsers, because Tess had directed her elsewhere.
“In here?” asked Graysocks.
As if it had heard her, the door in front of her slid aside. “Go right in,” Tess said from the comm badge the foxtaur now wore.
She might have said it wasn't what she'd expected -- except she hadn't known what to expect. The room wasn't really that small, but the assortment of equipment shelved, sitting on workbenches, or standing directly on the floor if they were big enough seemed to fill it.
And then there was the shipping pallet off to one side threatening to take up the rest of the floor. Its burden was mostly wrapped in tough plastic, but something had sliced through part of the top and one side, the resulting gap having then been pulled wide. Inside it was mostly filled with bolts of cloth in an assortment of colors and patterns. She pulled one out. The cloth was a deep, rich green and shimmered slightly in the light as she turned it.
The door opened and she turned to look. A small, robot-like device – one of Tess' small ‘remotes’ as Captain Foster had called one – with a box on top wheeled in quickly, slid the box onto a shelf under one of the benches, and then whizzed back out.
But the door hadn't closed. Nightsky was standing there, looking at her and the room.
“Um... Hi, Nightsky,” she said.
“Hi.” The chakat stepped into the room, and the door closed quietly behind her. “What's all this?”
“Some sort of workshop, I think. The captain said if we wanted a change of clothes, we'd have to make them. There's supposed to be a sewing machine in here somewhere.”
“That's one,” said Nightsky, pointing to the top of the bench where the remote had delivered the box. Shi then indicated one of the floor units. “That's a fabric welder, and the one with the cover looks like a platform cutter.”
“You can sew?”
“Sure. What, you thought I bought all my stuff?”
“You do know where the sales are.”
Nightsky snorted. “It's the only time most of those stores sell anything for what it's worth. No, I've been making my own clothes for years.”
“What about the hoodie you gave to CalmMeadow?”
“Made that, too.”
“I wondered where you found one with hir coat pattern on it.”
The chakat giggled. “She caught me taking pictures of hir. I had to do some fast talking to keep hir from figuring it out.” Peering at the fabric in Graysocks' hands, she said, “That color will look good on you. I hope there's a nice 'dawn' rose, too.”
As Nightsky poked around in the pallet, Graysocks took a closer look at the platform cutter. They weren't home appliances, but when loaded with fabric and a pattern they would quickly produce shaped pieces for assembly by a fabric welder or thread sewing. They'd had one at school, which avoided the chaos of a room full of students with scissors in their hands.
She was still looking for the power switch when Nightsky spoke.
“Put that fabric back.”
“What? We're supposed to make ourselves some clothes out of this.”
“Just put it back. Somebody made a mistake.”
“Oh come on...” The expression on Nightsky's face made Graysocks' voice trail off. “What is this stuff?”
“Silk, Graysocks. Not rayon or some other artificial – silk. From China. This stuff's worth a fortune.”
“And how do you know that?”
“I thought I recognized the texture, but then I found this.” Nightsky held out a hardcopy of the pallet's packing list, where the point of origin was clearly identified. Both of them knew from history lessons that China's silk production had suffered terribly during the Gene Wars and only survived due to extraordinary efforts to preserve both silkworms and the mulberry trees they depended on as food. By combination of legacy and rarity, unreplicated Chinese silk was one of the Federation's prized luxury items. As if it had suddenly become extremely fragile, Graysocks picked her bolt back up.
“There's no mistake,” Tess said over the room's speakers.
“It has to be a mistake, Tess,” insisted Nightsky. “This is probably all the silk you guys have aboard.”
“No, it isn't,” said Neal from the speakers. “That's what was easiest to get at. It's what we in the shipping industry call a 'broken pallet', one that was damaged or opened deliberately. In this case, that pallet was unsealed so that I could hand out samples to help drum up a little business. As the rest can't be sold as a unit, do what you can with it. If you don't trust yourself with silk, I can offer you a burlap bag as soon as Mike's finished the oats in it...”
Graysocks snorted in amusement. “If you don't have enough oatmeal aboard, Mike will end up chewing on that bag!” She sighed. “Okay, we use silk. What else do we need?”
A discovery by Shadowcrest interrupted them, and by the time that was settled it was lunch. Graysocks was reminded by others going to brush their teeth that she had yet to pick out her own personal items, so she was late getting back to the workroom. When she did, though, she was surprised to see Nightsky hunched over one of the workbenches. “What are you doing?” she asked.
Without looking up, the chakat said, “Hi, Graysocks. I'm almost ready for...”
A buzzing sound alerted the foxtaur to one of Tess' remotes trundling into the room. It had a pair of boxes on top of it, and Nightsky all but pounced on the machine to grab them. “Hey!” Graysocks said indignantly.
Nightsky looked up. “What?”
Graysocks watched the remote leave before turning back to the chakat. “You're cutting already?”
“Only for myself,” the chakat explained.
“Without a pattern?”
“It's nothing fancy, and I already know my measurements. Besides, it's a wrap design, very easy to adjust with lots of leeway.”
“So what are these?” Graysocks asked, indicating the boxes.
“Fasteners. Tess delivered a sewing kit while we were eating. Thread's in there,” shi added, hir tail tapping the box that had been delivered during their previous visit to the room.
“What about the machines? Isn't there a sewing machine in here?”
Nightsky waved at the unit strapped to the end of the bench. “All yours -- but the presser foot's broken.”
“The... presser foot.” Looking at the machine, Graysocks tried to figure out where that was; she could use a sewing machine but didn't know the 'proper' names for all the parts.
“Yeah. It won't lift.”
“Oh.” That identified it. She tried the appropriate lever; the problem didn't seem to be some sort of safety mechanism, more like it was clinging to or jammed by something soft. A squeal of delight from Nightsky interrupted. “What...?”
Holding out a package shi'd removed from the box, the chakat said, “Binary magnets! Nothing better to avoid spoiling an outfit's lines.”
“I'd rather have buttons.”
“Got those, too. And snaps, zippers, hooks, eyelets for laces... This ship could probably open its own sewing shop.”
“It is a shop – for other shops.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
For a moment, Graysocks looked at Nightsky with a mixture of wonder and confusion. The chakat was already bent to her task, despite having at first being so protective of the fabric they'd been given. It was then she decided – this was Nightsky's project. She could sew a little but not well, so she'd try to just help her friend with what she needed.
She turned back to the machine; if she could open it up she could probably clear it. “Nightsky, what about the fabric welder?” she asked.
“It messes up silk.” The chakat looked up. “But if you find some dura-cloth, it works great and we can make coveralls.”
“For chores. Or do you think we'll be allowed to sit on our haunches for a couple of years?”
Graysocks paused. “Yeah, that makes sense.” She tested the cover in her hands again and was rewarded by having it come off easily. That revealed a mechanism coated in some sort of cloudy goo. She poked at it, but it didn't give and refused to be pulled off. Maybe it was put on for storage? “I don't think it's broken, it just needs a good cleaning. Have you seen any maintenance supplies?”
“No, but I haven't looked.”
The foxtaur shook her head as she headed for the nearest cabinet.
“And what have you two been up to?” Neal asked as he entered sometime later.
Graysocks jumped slightly; she'd been poking around the shelves for something to clean and lubricate the sewing machine and felt like she'd been caught looking in someone else's closet.
But Nightsky beat her to replying. “I just finished a top, Captain Foster,” shi said, holding out the garment.
Tilting his head in puzzlement, Neal said, “Ooookay...”
“What?” asked Nightsky.
“I'm just trying to figure out how it's worn.”
“It's easy! I'll show you!” said the chakat, who proceeded to quickly remove hir camisole-style top. “You just sling it over one shoulder... bring it under the other arm... and fasten. See?”
Neal seemed to be trying to not laugh as he said, “Yes, I... see. Is it comfortable?” Graysocks let out a quiet sigh of relief on realizing that it would take more than a bare set of furry tits to shock or upset their new captain.
“Sure.” Nightsky tugged at a few spots. “It'll give as I move and just fall back in place. I need to redo the hems so it'll last longer, but that can wait until everybody's got a change and we can do some laundry.”
“Why didn't you hem it that way first?”
“The sewing machine's got some sort of sealant clogging it,” said Graysocks.
“And you're looking for something to clear it with?” At the foxtaur's nod, Neal reached past her and firmly closed the cabinet she had opened before leading her to another one and pointing to a picture on it. “That identifies maintenance supply storage; you'll see it in a lot of places near machinery. Don't open anything with a red outlined label unless you know what's in there, how to handle it, and really think you need it; for now, just assume it means ‘hands off’.” He opened the cabinet and retrieved a few items before closing it just as firmly as the previous one.
“Don't the latches work?” Graysocks asked.
“Lesson one about living in space,” he said. “If it isn't secured, it's not going to stay put. So everything has to be attached or tied down or put in a secure container. Don't assume something will close, make sure.”
“And if I don't?”
“If you're lucky, all you'll get is yelled at for being unsafe. If not, well, it depends on what gets loose. Some things are just messy. Others make a mess of equipment – or the crew. The really dangerous things are behind multiple layers of security and nobody goes near them until they've proved they're responsible with that access.”
Graysocks ducked her muzzle. “I suppose things have to be a little different in artificial gravity.”
“It's not just because of artificial gravity or the chance of zero-G; ships and even stations can have unexpected motions that artificial gravity and anti-surge systems can't fully compensate for. Even if the crew learns to stay on their feet, loose objects can't. So if you open it, close it, and if you take it out, put it away – including strapping it back down. On a planet it's to avoid falls, in space it's to avoid launching things across the room.”
As Neal looked over the sewing machine, Graysocks took another look at the workroom's contents. Aside from what she and Nightsky had handled, she realized that everything she could see was bolted down, strapped in, clipped, or otherwise held in place. Even the shelves were secured, and probably the storage cases held smaller things that if not secured inside were unlikely to suffer or cause problems from bouncing around inside. Even the sewing machine was attached to a base clamped to the workbench.
“Yeah, it's just the seal-coat,” Neal was saying quietly to himself.
“Can you remove it?” she asked. “I couldn't peel it off.”
“Of course; all it needs is the right chemical 'key' and fresh lube. I did this so it wouldn't rust from being unused for so long. Here, why don't you release and clear this part while I check the motor.”
Graysocks took the damp pad Neal was holding out and set to removing the coating sticking to the inside of the machine. That left mostly bare metal, but spots of old, darkened oil had also been hidden. She was trying to remove those when Neal stopped her.
“That's good enough,” he said.
“But it's still dirty.”
“And it'll be worse after the seamstress here gets done with it so it'll need a more thorough cleaning later, but for now it's good enough to use. Here, squeeze a little of this on the shaft and we'll see if it'll move again.”
To her relief, it did. With the lift lever working smoothly, Neal had her replace the cover and declared the sewing machine ready to use. Nightsky all but pounced on it, setting up the thread and bobbin with obvious experience. “Don't go anywhere, Graysocks,” shi said without looking up. “I'll take your measurements when I'm done with this and then I'll make something for you.”
“So you're going to make outfits for just you and her?” Neal asked.
“What?” the chakat asked, hir head coming up suddenly in surprise. “No! I mean, if they want to they can make their own, but I'll make something for anyone if I can get their measurements. It's not like we don't have enough material.”
Neal grinned in a way that made Graysocks a little worried. “Really? Tess, what do you have available?”
“It'll take me a while to retrieve garment standards and convert them, but I've got topological scans for everyone aboard,” the computer said from speakers in the workbench's data displays. On screen appeared a series of wire frame renderings of the various stowaways and castaways Neal had taken in, each labeled by name and reducing to icons to make room for the next. The last was of Nightsky hirself.
The chakat got a huge grin on hir face and happily returned to getting ready to finish hir new top.
“And what about you?” Neal asked Graysocks.
She shook her head. “Nightsky is already way past anything I can do, but I'd like to help her if I can.”
“How about starting with helping me make sure the other tailoring machines are ready for use?”
“Sure. 'Sky said the welder isn't good for silk, but I suppose the cutter might speed things up for hir.”
“We'll start with that, although we'll check the welder, too. Let's get the cover off...”
When it had been just Neal and Tess, the Folly didn't operate on a set schedule. But with the addition of sixteen souls, only one of which was an adult, establishing a routine became very important. Tess had suggested reviving the ‘ship's bell’ system, but Neal had vetoed that immediately. Instead, he had Tess pass word through speakers or comm badges as needed, such as when it was time for supper.
None of the teens were too enthusiastic about the prospect of another quick-heat food pack meal, but as the alternative was going hungry they dutifully made their way to the lounge they'd been eating in. They were, however, surprised to find Tess refusing to open the door.
They didn't have long to wait, as Neal, Weaver, Holly, and Quickdash arrived only a few minutes after the first of the teens. “What's going on, Tess?” asked Neal.
“Just a little presentation, Boss,” the computer replied. As the door opened, she added, “Graysocks and Nightsky are ready for you now.”
Neal held back, thinking he knew what was up. The sounds the teens were making seemed to confirm his suspicions. What Cindy was carrying as she hurried back out proved them.
Inside, the castaway teens (and others) were discovering the results of that afternoon's efforts by Graysocks and Nightsky. Fifteen short stacks had been set out, each composed of one or more pieces of light clothing and topped with a small embroidered tag bearing the name of the recipient. Graysocks and Nightsky were already wearing theirs, and some of the teens ducked out of the room to change immediately after thanking the two.
“But... how?” asked Weaver as she held up the top that had been made for her. “All this in one afternoon?”
“It was a team effort,” Nightsky said.
“It was all Nightsky,” Graysocks said at the same time.
“Oh no,” insisted Nightsky. “I sewed, but you cut and Tess figured the patterns.”
“After you picked the fabric and styles.”
Nightsky waved that off dismissively. “Those were the simple parts.”
At that point Cindy came back in, almost bouncing in excitement and wearing her new outfit. “It fits great!” she said as she held up her arms and turned around to show it off.
Neal slipped in behind her.
“Why so light?” asked Mike.
“That's what we had to work with,” said Nightsky as shi ticked off hir reasons on her fingers. “We're in a controlled environment aboard a ship, and they'll work as underwear for heavier stuff I'll make once I get the fabric.”
“Underwear?” Quickdash said, sounding a little put off.
“Or pajamas if you want 'em,” said Nightsky as shi put a hand on the smaller chakat's shoulder. “Besides, you might want something between you and the kind of fabric that can stand up to a lot of scrapes and scuffs. And you'll be wanting to wear that when we start getting chores to do.”
“Shi's right,” Weaver said. “Nothing itches like having your fur pulled the wrong way and you can't reach the spot to scratch because it's covered.”
Quickdash looked up at Nightsky for a moment before asking, “Do I have to put it on now?”
“No,” said Graysocks with a chuckle. “But you do have to keep track of it.”
“What are the tags for?” asked Weaver.
“Our bags,” said Graysocks. “That way we'll all know which is whose.”
It was obviously going to be several minutes before they all settled down enough to eat, so when he saw an opportunity, Neal got Nightsky off to one side to have a word with hir. “You seem to have a real talent for this,” he said. “To help you ‘work off’ your passage I'd like you to make some uniforms for yourself and the rest of the kids – and Weaver. Tess'll find you the cloth and give you the design. And if we have enough silk in the same color, you can make fancier outfits for when we're in port.”
“Sure!” Nightsky said. “But I hope you aren't going to restrict me to just uniforms.”
Neal chuckled. “No, but don't think this will get you out of other chores.”
“Of course not. Things still have to be cleaned and moved and stuff.”
“Glad we understand each other. Congratulations on a job well done. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to congratulate Graysocks, too.”
“Oh! Before you go, Captain, these are for you,” Nightsky said, retrieving an unclaimed stack and passing it to Neal.
For once he was at a loss for words, so he just smiled and nodded.
His conversation with Graysocks was a little different, though.
“I just ran the cutter,” insisted the foxtaur vixen.
“Don't diminish your part because it wasn't creative like Nightsky's,” said Neal. “Although the rush is over and shi'll probably do okay without the help after this.” He paused, expecting Graysocks to say something, but the foxtaur just looked thoughtful. “Speaking of which,” he continued, “maybe you can help me with something else?”
“You might have noticed how long the machines in the workroom have been sitting idle. They all need a good going-over, and you seem to have a knack for that. Would you mind checking them out? I'll make sure you have a PADD that will tell you what you need to know about each unit and where to find supplies.”
The happy gleam in Graysocks' eyes told him he was right.
Copyright © 2014 Wayne Cook
The Chakat universe is the creation of Bernard Doove and used with his permission.
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