The Olde Curiosity Shoppe
By Liath Mactire

I'm not usually an early riser, but today I found myself opening my eyes to watch through our bedroom window as Chakastra rose over the horizon. I wasn't yet in a rush to be anywhere else, although my days are never empty, but my mental clock was still out of sync with Amistad time. Just having arrived back from Earth the day before, and in spite of having had a thoroughly enjoyable and very, very physically boisterous welcome from my mate last evening, I had awakened far earlier than was my routine.

Ah, last night ... that is something to just replay in one's mind eye a few times, and a few times more, enjoying the warmth of those memories - and the length, and the breadth, and the firmness, and the duration, and ... hmmmmm. Oh yes.

It was a good thing to just lie there on our sleeping pad, watching the sun start to warm the day. The warm embrace of my mates arms and paws holding me close, the soft warmth of hir pressed against my lower and upper torsos, hir warm breath infusing into my head fur as shi slept on. I was enjoying these moments before the day began, although I could sense through our empathic link that hir mind was starting to waken too.

A pair of black ears appeared over the edge of the sleeping pad, soon followed by a face filled with yellow, slitted eyes and black whiskers.

Firecrest's voice rumbled in my ears, “He missed you too, although you'd never know that from the greeting he gave you last night.”

I had to chuckle – Hunter, like all housecats since the beginning of their association with humans, expressed a certain degree of aloofness toward those they lived with. It would never do for their dignity to admit they missed someone. I know they don't have empathic talents, but he never fails to show up within moments of my awakening – although it was usually because he wanted food.

What's the old saying? 'Dogs have owners, cats have staff'.

“I don't know why you took him in. Then all the time and trouble to bring him with us from Earth,” Firecrest spoke gently in a joking manner.

“I'm just a pushover for strays – just like how I ended up with you, beloved,” I replied as I snuggled back against Firecrest, turning my head to give hir a lick-kiss, hoping to delay our morning. Hunter would have none of that. He jumped up on my lower torso, and proceeded to 'knead' my ribs with the single mindedness of his kind.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch – you didn't trim his claws while I was away!” It didn't really hurt, more of an intense tickle, but a gentle chiding over hir omission seemed suitable. Another lick-kiss or two (or three) was an adequate apology.

“All right, all right, time for breakfast for the four-limbed members of this household,” I muttered as I started to roll over to the edge of the pad. His perch shifting under his paws, Hunter jumped to the floor. I stepped down to the floor and gave a full six-limbed Chakat stretch, accompanied by an exaggerated growl of appreciation from Firecrest.

Ambling toward the kitchen, I followed Hunter's impatient lead. His food served, I then headed to the bathroom and luxuriated in the taur shower's streams of hot water. While passenger liners were relatively luxurious, it was delightful to have plenty of room and plenty of hot water again. Firecrest came along as I stepped out of the shower, we shared a damp lick-kiss, and I stepped into the dryer.

While shi too enjoyed the water, I finished drying, returned to the kitchen and started on our breakfast.

Coffee for Firecrest, tea for me, fruit, bacon, sausages, pastries, cereal. As I stood there contemplating what else we needed – maybe some eggs? - Firecrest came into the kitchen.

“'Cloud, have you invited a couple more furs over for breakfast? This is more than we need,” teased Firecrest.

This derailed my train of thought. I looked over the table and realized the truth in hir observation. My reply was just on my lips when shi continued with a small smile, “Or are you building up your reserves for your next heat so we can try for a cub?”

A pang of guilt made me pause before I could reply. We'd been talking about having cubs for quite some time now, but we had each been so busy that we didn't see how we could yet take the time to start a family. We'd discussed each of us becoming pregnant one after the other, so the cubs would grow up together.

Firecrest put hir hand over my muzzle as I started to open it and said “Ssssh. We have plenty of time, my love. I shouldn't have said that. I'm glad that you're home again. Get your paws firmly on the ground again, then we'll make our plans.”

We hugged, my cheek brushed against hir's as we held each other for several moments – hir delicious scent filling my nose, hir warm body pressed against mine, hir hands brushing along my spine, hir ...

“I think we should have breakfast, or we might need to go back to bed for the rest of the day. Then we'd get nothing done ... “ I breathed into hir ear, the edge of passion making my voice huskier than usual.

After a few moments we lick-kissed, stepped apart, then sat down to eat, unspoken agreement postponing further discussion of either course of action.

Routine conversation over breakfast gradually filled the initial slightly awkward silence. What we needed to do today, anecdotes of my trip to Earth, what shi'd been doing while I was away. We tidied up after our meal, dressed, and headed off for our jobs. Hunter started his day by finding a sunny spot to sleep.

A PPTV took me to the shop, where I spent a few minutes greeting my friends among the staff of the nearby businesses, finishing off with a take-out tea from the local café. Standing in front of my business I opened the shutters, unlocked the door, then went inside to turn on the lights and settled down to deal with the byproducts of an extended absence. Catching up on messages, arranging for the delivery of packages that had been held waiting for my return, all the usual trivia, took up the morning.

The afternoon was progressing swiftly when the communication console lit up with an incoming message. The call identified itself as originating with Captain Foster's ship The Folly, but when I accepted the connection I was surprised to see a foxtaur vixen appear on the display. I usually have dealt with Captain Foster directly, or Tess, who never uses the video functions, and I didn't think there was any other crew on The Folly.

The foxtaur introduced herself, “Chakat Thundercloud? I'm Weaver of The Folly. Would you be available tomorrow afternoon? I have some material from Captain Foster that he'd like you to have a look at. I also understand you have some items for him?”

My thoughts stumbled for a moment, not expecting this fur. After a moment of hesitation I replied, “Yes I will be in the shop tomorrow, anytime after 11 hour would be fine.”

I confirmed the address and directions, and we disconnected.

When the call ended, I was puzzled. During the years that Captain Foster had made use of my services, there had only been him and Tess. I called up the connection information that I knew would connect me directly to Tess, and an audio only connection was established.

“Good afternoon, Tess. I had a call from a foxtaur who identified herself as Weaver of The Folly. I wanted to confirm her identity. Is she part of The Folly's crew and authorized to receive a shipment on behalf of the Captain?”

Tess replied with a chuckle, “Ever the cautious one. Yes, she's just one of the new additions to Neal's crew and family. Weaver is first mate of The Folly and mate to Neal – I'll send you an image so you'll be sure it is our Weaver.”

My reply was tinged with surprise, “Thanks. I'm ... intrigued – crew, family, mate! My, my, my! I will have to get the full story from Weaver when she's here.”

What can I say? Chakats are just big, curious kitties, even if it sometimes gets our fur singed.

I disconnected my call to Tess with my usual invitation for her to visit, but she never has despite my repeated offers. I'm sure I could get enough information to satisfy even my curiosity once I have her across from me.

The next morning was routine, a quick lunch, and back to the shop before 11 hour. Practically on the dot of the hour the antique brass bell on the door rang as a foxtaur vixen shut the door behind her. The evidence of my eyes was confirmed by the biometric recognition system that this was in fact Weaver.

“Weaver, a great pleasure to meet you!” which I emphasized with the usual Chakat hug. “I am Chakat Thundercloud, child of Cloudflier and Greenleaves. I have Captain Fosters original recordings, as well as the transcribed files ready for you. Please come back here and put down your package – more interesting artifacts for my special care, unless I miss my guess? Do sit down. Can I offer you some tea, perhaps? Coffee? Fruit Juice? Water?”

Weaver was able to reply with a chuckle while I paused for breath. “Thundercloud, it's a pleasure to meet you in person – just a glass of water would be fine thanks, it is a warm day,” she replied before I launched into an extended menu.

While Weaver rested and sipped at her water, we engaged in conversation about inconsequential things, although I tried my best to get the latest gossip about The Folly and their adventures. Weaver was open about many things, although she remained circumspect and guided the conversation away from some of the paths that I tried to follow.

“This isn't quite what I expected your business to look like, and the name is surprising - 'The Olde Curiosity Shoppe'. Is there a reason that it looks like this?” as Weaver gestured to include the crowded and eclectic items about the shop. “Neal wouldn't tell me, he said you'd explain – his damnable sense of humour again.”

I chuckled, and explained, “The sign and the contents of this front room were all here when I opened my business, leftovers from the previous owner. They dealt in what might charitably be called antiques. I decided to keep them, it's good camouflage. Let me show you some of the secrets behind the curtain. Please follow me.”

Flipping the old fashioned cardboard sign in the window to say 'Back Soon' and locking the door, I led Weaver toward the back of the shop, through a storage room, and opened a door that led into a smallish bare room with a second set of doors at the far end. It was sized for taurs but still a little tight for two. When I closed the door strong jets of air played over our fur for several seconds, knocking off at least some of our loose fur and a mild tractor field drawing it away. When the air stopped, the inner door released and we stepped through.

“Welcome to the heart of Thundercloud Information Recovery – this is where the actual work is done”

It pleased me, just my sense of whimsy I suppose, that I momentarily left her speechless as she gazed over my 'little' workshop. Well, little may not be the right word. One of the reasons that I chose my business was that it was just a modest storefront on a moderately busy side street – where the back wall was the outer wall of a substantial warehouse. Once I opened the wall between the two and installed the air shower, the one became the public face, and the other provided the space needed for some of my more substantial items. Most of my customers see me just as a small operator dealing in the odd flotsam and jetsam of centuries of technological civilization, able to repair bits of the past and recover some of the failures that still occur even with modern technology.

Then there is the other identity that is known to the government and law enforcement agencies with more, shall we say, specialized needs. Situations where the darker elements of civilized society want to keep their secrets from the casual prying eye, or to make them disappear forever. Where someone with my odd nuggets of knowledge can help to thwart their intentions.

More lucrative, indeed, but more dangerous too. Captain Foster is one of the few who knows both are two different faces of the same being. He helped me in the early years when I wasn't sufficiently cautious at keeping the two separate. A man with a very devious mind.

“Weaver, I know you have the confidence of Captain Foster, but may I please emphasize that my safety and that of my mate is in part dependent on keeping the two parts of my business life separate. So, your discretion please. Having said that, I get so few opportunities to show off my little toys. May I give you the scenic tour?” I enquired, trying to hold back my enthusiasm.

I wasn't entirely sure that she wasn't just humouring me, but she agreed and we started a winding path around the floor.

Where my little shop showed a slightly dusty and worn appearance, rather like a favourite comfortable blouse that you've worn too many times but can't bear to part with, my workshop was airy, bright and spotless. Various specialized machines were scattered about the floor, some with the patina of a century or two, others that would look up to date in a modern research lab. One end of the room was filled with floor to ceiling racks holding carriers.

“I'm sure you recognize the automated handling equipment like on The Folly or any of hundreds of ports of call. This corner was hollowed out of the main warehouse, and that door connects to the main part of the warehouse so carriers can be moved in and out. The main warehouse is just for transshipments and entirely automated – transports pull up, offload, and the carriers are stored by the machinery. Other transports will come in, the machinery will pick up the stored carriers, load them on the transports, which will then take them to their next point along their travels. Most of the business the warehouse conducts is entirely what it appears to be, but occasionally some of those carriers make their way here. It allows me to send and receive items without it being obvious what is going on.”

“Here's one of my oldest pieces,” I said as we paused before a machine of wood and metal with a brass horn projecting from it. “It's an actual Edison phonograph from the late 19th Century – the audio was recorded by gouging a groove into a wax cylinder. The sound would be played back by a steel stylus tracing the groove and being amplified by the horn. It was completely mechanical – this predated the era of electronic amplification. Let me play a sample”.

With a few quick cranks of the wind-up motor, the device started to play back a speech from Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” - “If we shadows have offended ...”, although the speaker seemed to be shouting rather than engaging in any subtleties with the piece.

“Thundercloud,” Weaver said with a teasing tone, “that sound's like you – I didn't think you were an amateur thespian!”

“Uh, yes, well, not really. The real recordings are very delicate and only have a limited number of uses before the playing process effectively destroys them,” I explained with a self-conscious chuckle. “I'm working with a mathematician at Dewclaw University to build on work that was done in the late 20th Century to process out the distortions of the original recording. Shi's also helping with working around the encryption that is used starting in the late 20th century through to today.”

“This is one of the replica recordings I've created to be used for the modelling process, making a modern recording at the same time as a reference. Just like the originals, you have to pretty much shout into the horn to make the recordings. I first heard old recordings from this era that my sire played for me when I was a cub. I thought that everyone back then must have shouted all the time. An illusion that my sire encouraged – he also fooled me into believing that the world was only black and white back then too.” Weaver raised an eyebrow in a query. “I was fooled because early photographs weren't in colour – shi had me believing that the photographs were colour but that the world wasn't,” I explained with a certain embarrassment at the joke my sire had played on me back then.

We took a few steps. “This was the next stage – the recordings were made on flat discs, still using the idea of a groove where the audio caused displacement from side to side. The early ones were still all mechanical, but eventually electronic amplification improved the technology. The flat disc allowed them to be mass produced. The cylinders were created by having an array of machines in front of the performers, each one an original – there were never as many, and the performers would have to repeat themselves many times to keep up with the demand.”

Now we stood in front of a modern device. “This is what I actually use to capture the sound – it's a high resolution three-dimensional scanner. It creates an extremely accurate image of the surfaces, and then we back model the cutter used to create the grooves, and the sound that was used to create it,” I explained.

We continued on around the room, past the machines that I used for 'movies', a series of still images recorded on a flexible medium. “The amazing thing is that some of these early ones still exist – the substrate was actually a crude explosive, and quite unstable. The technicians who projected those early movies risked their lives if they caught on fire.” There were the magnetic recordings, some on spools of wire, some as strips of flexible plastic wound onto reels, ranging from small 'cassettes' up to massive rolls that were some 4cm in thickness and a diameter of 50cm.

“I have used tractor fields to peel them apart – the magnetic particles and the carrier strip aren't stable enough to unreel as they'd originally did. Without special handling they're likely to crumble into dust. Once unrolled, the magnetic patterns can be scanned and the original audio or video signals reconstructed. I've also been experimenting with the assistance of a House Bluepaw skunktaur – hy has been very successful in some of the more delicate cases to help tease them apart.”

I showed her the small shiny plastic discs that were commonly used in the late 20th and early 21st century. The transition to 'flash' tecnology of the early 21st century. “This was a very problematic period for recovering information – the data is recorded on a small scale on a silicon substrate, using electrical charges that gradually drained away over a number of years.”

I stood in front of a very modern piece of equipment, a quantum particle microscope. “This is my most useful tool for this type of problem, as well as the crystal based media that followed it and right on into modern quantum memory.”

“It allows me to peer into their heart, subatomic particle by particle. With the 'flash' memory, although the electrical charge has long ago drained away, it is sensitive enough to allow me to detect the slight deformations to the crystal structure caused by the charge that was present. It can show the atoms that were pushed out of position in crystal memory, and even the spins in the quantum memory. Unless someone has taken a weapon to them, it is likely that I can tease out their secrets.”

Weaver was getting overwhelmed by my tour, it was time to get back to her business. “I can tell you've heard all you need to of this, Weaver,” I suggested.

“No, no, it is ... fascinating,” Weaver replied engaging in a polite fiction.

“Let's carry on with the real purpose of your visit,” I suggested.

Taking a large box down from shelves and putting it down on a table, I explained, “Here's the results of the last batch from Captain Foster – the originals are in there, and the recovered contents are now on current storage media. I've also included recordings that I've acquired from my own sources that meet his criteria. There are even a few that were originally from wax cylinders like the ones I showed you. There's the raw audio, as well as the version where the distortions have been modelled and taken out.”

We turned to her parcel, and my face lit up in anticipation much like a cub in a candy store.

“So, what new delights has the enigmatic Captain Foster for me?” I asked Weaver. “I'd like to know what hidey-hole he pulls some of these things out of, they're quite fantastic.”

Weaver didn't answer my latter implied question, but in answer to the former proceeded to open the box she had brought with her and pulled out a number of 20th and 21st Century Earth recordings. There were also some early Caitian and Rakshani recordings. The very last item was extraordinary by being very ordinary, in that it was a modern storage module from a shipboard computer.

“Is this one of Captain Foster's Special Projects for me?” I enquired, with a hint of a smile.

“Yes, that was from a shipboard computer on a slaver ship. They ... lets just say they don't need it any more, but they did manage to erase much of the contents. Perhaps ...” Weaver ended with a tone of suggestion in her voice.

“Perhaps I can convince it to give up some secrets? Ah yes. Secrets, secrets, secrets. Of course, secrets are such elusive things – you never know when they will grow legs, get up on their paws and walk away,” as I assumed an expression of innocence that even a new born cub would be hard pressed to outdo. Never seemed to be able to fool my parents with it, though.

“I wouldn't be at all surprised if these secrets wandered off and ended up, anonymously of course, in the hands of Star Fleet – perhaps by way of some discreet Chakona Security Force contacts. Oh, yes. I can manage that. With a great deal of pleasure!” By the last word, there was a very wide, very predatory grin on my face, showing every one of the teeth that grace a Chakat's mouth – and they're a very daunting sight.

Weaver's only reply was a conspiratorial smile.

After Weaver's visit my life returned to its usual routine, the little jobs through the front door, the more obscure through the loading dock of the warehouse. A couple of eightdays later my latest shipment from Earth reached Chakona Gateway Station. The next morning saw me heading to the spaceport for a shuttle ride to the large space station that is the transshipment warehouse and inspection point for shipments to the surface. My saddle bags were filled with a PADD containing the information necessary to secure the release of my items, as well as the hardcopy version of everything. Actual hardcopy, in this day and age – I swear that if they could they'd make us use ink with quill pens, and wax seals imprinted with a signet ring.

Once the shuttle reached Chakona Gateway, I followed the path that I knew so well to the bonded warehouse. This is where my 'antiques' from Earth were stored after off-loading. I'd sent most of them along via a freighter, since the amount of space for such things on a passenger ship was limited and expensive. It had taken longer but at last the bulk of my finds were here.

It was truly a mixture of sources. Music, 'ebooks' as they called them then, 'television', 'movies', and more covering the gamut from the mid 20th century through the early 22nd. Some for academics who wanted more original source material processed (they never seem to have enough for the Gene War period), some for collectors including Captain Foster, some just for the entertainment feeds of the many worlds, stations and industrial installations spread out across the many star systems. None of them valuable in themselves, but enough to add a nice total to the bottom line when I release them after processing.

I walked into the customs office, and my hearts seemed to pause for a beat or two! I saw the one face I didn't want to see. I'd checked and was certain they were working the opposite shift. I swiftly tried to think the most calming thoughts I could – the last thing I wanted was a customs officer wondering why I was nervous.

The cause of my distress was a subterfuge I'd had to employ when we first moved to Chakona. There were some items I'd brought from Earth, and had to pass through customs, that I'd rather not be associated with me. Nothing illegal, just far too likely to leave tracks that unfriendly eyes might find.

I'd gone to the trouble of attending a conference being held in the Skuntaur archipelego, but booked two hotel rooms under two different names. One was for Chakat Thundercloud, the other, paid for from an untraceable account, for a Chakat Krasnyi-ogon, originally from the Russian part of Earth. Thanks to highly placed friends shi had been 'born' years before, kept ready to step in at need. For what I hoped was the last time shi would help me muddy the trail.

Once Chakat Thundercloud had checked in, I undertook a transformation, slipped out of my room and out of the hotel, and proceeded to check in again after the shift change at the front desk. I had coloured my fur in the most outrageous pattern of red, orange and brown, changed my headfur colour, changed my eye colour, even painted my claws 'fire-engine red' to go with my name ('red fire'). To top it all off I adopted the most flamboyant mannerisms and clothing, and plastered my Terranglo with the thickest Russian accent you could imagine. Fortunately I didn't have to call on my Russian, which was a little rusty after all these years. By immersing myself in this persona I was able to put up a diversion such that for a casual empathic contact it was not obvious I was the same fur.

Looking back, I think I may have overplayed it. This time I'd added a bit of an extra flair, taking as inspiration a character from some work I'd been doing the week before. But really, how many furs would recognize a character like Natasha from an obscure 20th Century Earth entertainment called “Rocky and Bullwinkle”​? Krasnyi-ogon then created as memorable a performance as you could imagine, took the shuttle from Curtisport to Chakona Gateway, cleared the goods and had them sent down to a warehouse in Curtisport. After a few more ruses they'd ended up on my alternate identities loading dock. Krasnyi-ogon had already disappeared never to be seen again.

But for now, nothing for it but to brazen it through.

It turned out I had nothing to worry about – no one associated the outrageous Chakat with the red claws with the reserved Thundercloud and hir grey coat, fine white stripes like lighting bolts, and tawny headfur. Shi never realized that I was the same fur from that previous visit.

I went through the carriers with the customs agent. We opened the containers, I released the stasis fields, and generally allowed them to determine that they were filled with what most would consider just old junk. Throughout, I put on the persona of a slightly eccentric fur (Firecrest would say that wasn't a very long trail to travel) – after gushing for several minutes over what looked like something that should be sent off for recycling rather than of any value, their attention wanes a little bit. After a couple of hours shi was satisfied. I could then arrange for their transport down to the surface and delivery to my shop.

All the formalities completed, I went to a little café with a pretty view showing the curve of Chakona, had a nice taur sized mug of tea while waiting for the next shuttle, and returned to Amistad in an entirely routine trip.

This Fifthday was like most days in my 'Olde Curiosity Shoppe', until a Chakat and hir cub walked in, carrying a small box. The antique bell on the door jangled as they closed it, signalling their arrival. My empathic sense picked up the sadness they radiated, drawing my attention to them more than the bell.

“Good morning, I'm Chakat Thundercloud, child of Cloudflier and Greenleaves. I'm the owner of this establishment. How may I help you?” I enquired.

“I'm Chakat Sundancer, child of Bluewater and Silvermoon, this is my child Zephyr, hir sire was Fleetpaw.” At mention of Fleetpaw their emotions peaked. Shi and Zephyr welcomed my hugs, despite their emotional state. “We were told you could help us.”

“I'll certainly try. You mentioned your cub's sire? Does that have something to do with your visit?”, I prompted.

“Fleetpaw was one of the furs killed during the Freedom Day attacks by H1,” shi said, with melancholy draping hir words. “We'd gone to Curtisport to spend the day with friends. Shi stayed to watch one event while we went to see another. Then the bomb went off killing Fleetpaw and several of our friends. We've just received Fleetpaw's effects from the Security Forces, and among them was the camera that we'd used that day. They sent us to you. They said you could get the recordings off of it. We don't have a lot of mementos of Fleetpaw and our friends. It .. it always seemed like we had an unlimited number of tomorrows to think about that. While it was not a day that we'd choose to remember we want the record of that day before ... before the ... “ Hir words ground to a halt.

“I quite understand,” I said gently. “May I see the camera?” Zephyr pulled it out of the box, and handed it to me.

The lens was smashed, it was scraped, dented, and bent, there were bits of what might have been blood in some of the seams, and the power cell had shorted out at some point, partially melting a corner.

“I can understand why they sent you to me – was it Longrunner? - shi knows I have a certain talent for this sort of thing. Leave this with me. It may look bad, but the storage media looks to be mostly free of damage. I'll do my best for you.” I gave them one more hug and they went on their way.

Next Seconday I had finished the recovery and transferred the recordings to a new storage chip. It was late afternoon, and this was a delivery that needed to be made in person. I called Firecrest to warn hir that I might have an errand on the way home, then I called Sundancer, and asked if it would be possible for me to come over with the camera and recovered media.

“You're most welcome to come over, Thundercloud. It isn't inconvenient for you?”, shi asked.

“No, no. not at all. In any case, there was one file on the camera that ... let's just say it needs a little explanation.”

I closed up the shop, and boarded a PPTV to travel to Sundancer's home.

The trip wasn't too long, just a short run from my more industrial corner of Amistad to their pleasant residential area. I found myself restlessly tossing many thoughts about my mind. It was just as well that the PPTV was under automatic control, I don't remember the trip and would probably have been a hazard to the other vehicles if I'd been driving.

The PPTV stopped at their door and I climbed out. Somehow their home, like its occupants when they'd been in my shop, seemed a little sad. Perhaps it was due to some signs of recent neglect in what had once been a carefully tended garden.

They welcomed me at the door, and showed me into the comfortable main room, where I proceeded to take the items I'd brought for them out of my carry bag. With a little hesitation I held up the media chip I'd loaded up with their files.

“The last file from the camera is audio only – it was recorded after the optical system was smashed. It was just luck that it still worked at all. I thought it was important that you hear it as soon as possible.”

I put the media chip into their player, selected the last audio recording and set it to play as Sundancer and Zephyr sat to listen.

Fleetpaw's voice filled the room, hir words distorted with the pain shi was feeling.

“My loves, I can tell that I'm badly hurt. I'll try ... to hold on. I hope that the medtechs will be here soon. I'm just about passing out. I.. I wanted you to know that the last thing I would ever choose is to leave you. You are the most important part of my life. If I can, I'll hold on and come back to you. I'll try – I'll try with all my will. If I don't survive, Sundancer, Zephyr, help each other to live a joyful life. The best memorial for me would be for you to live radiant lives. Don't let sadness blight you if I don't survive. If one's spirit persists after this life, you know that I'll be looking over your shoulder, exulting in your joys, and trying to ease your hurts. My hugs and kisses to you, my mate, my child. I'll ... I'll ... I'll rest now. Until they come to get me,” hir words slowing and coming to a stop.

The recording ended, and we all sat there for a few moments. Sundancer buried her face in Zephyr's head fur, as I hugged them both. I could feel their sadness, but also echoes of the love they had shared and the joys which had been theirs with Fleetpaw.

“It was hir Samarra ...” I muttered to myself.

The cub turned hir head toward me and asked, “Thundercloud, what is Samarra?”

“You heard that? – the sharp ears of the young! I'll tell you, little one. It is from a tale, told in different versions, from old Earth, about a time long before furs were created. One version tells about events in an ancient city called Baghdad.”

“A man had gone into the marketplace where he saw Death, and was startled when Death looked over at him and made as if to speak. The man ran away, begged a horse of his friend and immediately rode off to the city of Samarra to hide from Death. The man's friend later saw Death in the town, and demanded of them why they were troubling his friend.”

“Death replied that they were merely surprised to see him in Baghdad, since they had an appointment with him in distant Samarra that very evening, following a tavern brawl.”

Shi thought about this as a look of puzzlement spread over hir muzzle. “But, what does it mean?” asked Zephyr

“It means we never know when each of us will have our own appointment with Death, or whether we are running toward or away from that encounter. Fleetpaw didn't know that Curtisport was to be hir Samarra.”

“Just never forget this, little one - you know your sire loved you, your mother loves you, and you love them both. That is the truly important thing to remember. Most of all, never leave your love unsaid, since none of us know our last day”

I paused for a moment. I realized at last what had disturbed me on my way over - that like Fleetpaw I too would not know the day that Death would call on me.

“I'll leave your mother to tell you more of hir love for your sire and for you – but if you need a friendly hug anytime, I'd be happy to be there for you both. If you feel up to it, my mate and I are having some friends over for a barbecue next Sevenday – would both of you please join us? I'll send you the details”

“As for me, well, I think I need to head home and tell my mate how much I love hir.”

I bade them farewell, with a feeling of dampness about my eyes, waving to them silhouetted in their doorway as each held and supported the other. I turned toward the PPTV, knowing that it was time for Firecrest and me to act on our long deferred plans. On the way home my thoughts turned to our cubs-to-be. What 'Crest and I would need to do to prepare. Will we need more space? More space. Hmmmmm. I wonder what 'Crest would think of adding even more to our family? I wonder how shi'd like Sundancer? What our cubs-to-be would think of having a big sister ...

Possibilities, interesting possibilities.



Chakats, Chakona, and other elements of the Chakat Universe are the intellectual property of Bernard “Goldfur” Doove.
Captain Neal Foster, Tess, Weaver and The Folly are the intellectual property of Allen “Redbear1158” Fesler
Used with their permission.
Other elements are the creation of Liath Mactire © 2012.
If I've accidentally appropriated anyone else's I.P., I hope they will allow me the use of their creations.


Link: Return to the Forest Tales main page.


Link: Return to the Chakat's DenTM main page.