46) Fine Teamwork

Dawn was trying to break through the black Miraban skies. The hard rain that had poured down during the night was now over at last and the boiling the dark clouds were parting.The Frahza were at work high over the dangerous lake area, and eerie wisps of light popped up randomly from their frequency interactions with the toxin soaked environment. The high frequencies used to neutralize the poisons and radiation also produced a new smell of freshness in the air.

Orange peeked out from under the pile of rubble. His psychic sensors were in contact with Pheledra and she was on her way. Behind him, and not at all interested in sticking his nose out, Boots tried to disappear. At least he was out of the weather and out of sight.

The Miraban lifterwhirls came back in when the rain stopped and were still trying to retrieve parts from the crashed recon saucer. Soldiers in protective suits moved on the ground. A few of the gun crews in the lifterwhirls nervously fired chainstorm puncture blasters at the mysterious lights which danced everywhere.

Particle beams occasionally slashed across the sky even though nothing was in sight.

Even hiding under the rubble, Boots still cringed nervously every time he smelled those carrier waves right before the particle beams flashed. The gunners knew that a spacecraft in fourth density, although invisible to them, could be destroyed with a lucky shot – and they still suspected that such a craft just might come into their area, since there was already so much strange activity going on.

They were convinced that planet Miraba was under an alien invasion and they were on the front lines. Then too, they had been promised to be made bosses once the old regime returned. This motivated them.

A Frahza ship suddenly appeared overhead and skillfully dodged the crackling blasts – then zipped out of sight. This time, the particle beam rays came from above, as well as below, because the satellite, which had destroyed the recon saucer, was still zeroed in on the area.

The soldiers knew that Orange had been after something under the water, so they were watching the lake carefully. The water was far too toxic for them to go out and look for whatever it was. Even if they did, the heavy wreckage on the bottom, the nonexistant visibility and the thick black ooze would make it almost impossible.

Orange ducked down and Boots instinctively dug himself into an available dry hole in the ground. He was still plenty scared but felt a lot more secure down and tight than when he was a target up a tree blowing back and forth in the breeze.

The droid carefully replastered himself with black mud. “It sure makes good camouflage,” he whispered, “but it’s not good for living beings. And Boots, you’ve still got way too much of it on your fur.”

Earlier, Orange had done his best to wipe the cat off – but it wasn’t enough. He reached down the hole to give comfort by scratching Boots under the chin with his mechanical hand, then quietly explored further back in the rubble until he located a dry towel. He carefully pulled the cat out of his hole and vigorously rubbed him all over. Boots felt like he was being assaulted and yowled loudly. Orange quickly stuffed him back into the hole. “Shh, they’ll hear you …” “What was that?” came a voice.

“I think there might be someone hiding over here, sir,” another voice said closer by.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Orange whispered. Boots wanted to stay in the hole and the droid had to pry his claws loose from the root he was clinging onto. He stroked Boots affectionately and tucked him securely under his arm.

Orange could hear the soldiers now. They were moving through the rubble looking for the source of the noise and getting closer. The footsteps told Orange there had to be at least five and they were closing in. He didn’t want to get trapped in a small space so he decided to make a break for it.

He clamped onto Boots and, like a blur, zoomed out of the hole right past the surprised soldiers. Their sudden reactions and poor visibility, due to the protective suits, caused three of them to collide and the others to scramble out of the way to avoid being knocked down.

Orange and Boots would have made a clean escape had it not been for some other soldiers on the hill who opened fire. Orange zig zagged to avoid the projectiles but one blew off the arm holding Boots.

Orange kept on going but Boots tumbled through the air and fell directly into the midst of a whole army of soldiers. He hissed and screeched and growled running around and around their feet. They didn’t dare shoot because they would shoot each other. Instead they tried to grab him.

Several soldiers quickly realized they’d made a big mistake, as they tasted the full fury of tooth and claw gone wild. Boots was able to rip right through their protective suits. The soldiers with torn suits, not aware that the toxicity was rapidly declining due to the Frahza, panicked and ran for the lifterwhirls to extract them. Everyone else quickly got out of the way. As Orange turned back, he saw Boots break through and heading underneath the rubble again.

This time Boots was seeking out extra tight places where the soldiers couldn’t follow. Orange remained high enough to be out of range but he had a fix on Boots and with his sensors could see him moving further and further back into the rubble.

“Wait,” said one of the soldiers, “it’s nothin’ but a damn cat. Forget him.”

The soldiers shined their lights into the rubble but didn’t see anything so they moved out to continue their patrol.

Orange, with the black mud camoflage smeared all over him was able to sneak back to the spot where Boots had gone under and squeezed in. Orange hoped that Boots had stopped before he went too far into the rubble and got stuck. But Boots kept going quite a ways further than he should have in his panic and finally crawled into a skinny pipe.

“Uh oh,” said Orange, “Boots, can you hear me?”

Orange heard a little meow in reponse. The Droid didn’t like what his sensors were telling him. Boots was stuck and could neither move forward nor backward. His whiskers had been burned off from the fire of the recon saucer and he couldn’t tell when he’d gotten into a place too small for him. Now, he was thoroughly stuck in the narrow pipe. He could still breathe well enough. Evidently, air was coming through the other end of the pipe, but he’d gotten himself into a very bad situation.

Orange found Pheledra with his psychic sensors. What is your ETA?

Five zerons, Pheledra’s voice resounded in his head.

Boots is hung up in a pipe, Orange responded, he crawled into a pipe but it was too small. I don’t know how we’re going to get him. I can’t get to him and he’s under too much stuff for you to beam him up.

We’ll figure out what to do. Pheledra wanted to sound confident but she had no idea yet how they would get him. “Nel?”

“What, Pheledra?”

“Do you want to do something for us?”

“Yes, oh yes!” Nel was eager.

“Picture Boots and imagine yourself stroking him. Say comforting words to him in your mind.”

“Okay, I can do that.”

Boots was stuck in blackness. Even his cat eyes couldn’t pick up any light. He wouldn’t suffocate. Air was hitting his face. But – he could neither move forward nor back out of the pipe. Turning around was completely out of the question. At this point he really didn’t care if he went forward or backward as long as he could get out of that tight spot. He heard Nel’s voice in his head and could feel her hand against his fur. Pheledra’s mind was there too – speaking soothing and reassuring words. Just relax, kitten, we’re going to get you out.

“There’s no way we can go near that lake,” said Fabby, “you’re going to have to go a ways on foot because we must beam you down some distance away from the lake area where we won’t be seen.”

“All right,” said Pheledra, “I’ll take Blue and Green along.”

“Pheledra, you’ll be awfully close to those soldiers,” said Nahvar. “Why don’t you let me come with you.”

“No, Nahvar,” said Pheledra, “it wouldn’t be fair to put you at so much risk and it is better for you to stay here with Nel. Boots has a habit of getting into tight situations. It’s up to me to go get him.”

Pheledra went to the weapons cabinet and strapped two spectrum disrupters to the top of her wrists. She then summoned Blue and Green who came flying through the hatch and took their place along side her on the transfer pad. They had put on camouflage covers but in order to use their tools or weapons, they’d have to open the cover and expose their lights.

When Fabby located a safe spot, he beamed them down. They materialized in an alleyway between two destroyed buildings. Pheledra felt the heaviness of third density. The air was thick. She stood for a moment catching her breath – then they started out.

Blue and Green took up the front and rear with Pheledra in between. If she needed to get away in a hurry, she would step up onto one of the droids, secure herself by the hand and foot holds and become a flying passenger. Her disrupters were set to stun in case they were confronted by the soldiers. In third density, the only type of force field the droids could throw up was a blocking field. It would effectively block anything out, such as projectiles or explosions, but it also prevented them from moving forward, so it could only be used in an emergency situation.

Five lifterwhirls went over at low altitude. Their infrared sensors must have spotted Pheledra because they circled back and hovered over them. Pheledra jumped up onto Blue and they flew for cover just before the lifterwhirls opened fire. Blue and Green had immediately turned on the blocking field and they were safe but found themselves pinned down. The lifterwhirls had zeroed in and were hammering at the force field with everything they had.

The ordinance from the lifterwhirls was so intense and there were so many firey explosions that it looked to Pheledra as if they were inside a bubble looking into a firey holocaust. They couldn’t even see through the field bubble because the outside explosions were so intense.

“Okay, I’m going to extract you guys,” said Fabby. “I’ll beam you down in another place.”

A micron later, Pheledra, Blue and Green materialized on the control deck of the Firefly, across from Fabby, Nel and Nahvar who were waiting to see if they were okay.

“Put us down over on the other side,” said Pheledra to Fabby, “be ready to beam us up whenever I give you the signal.”

“Okay,” said Fabby.

Inky and Ginger came bounding down from the observation deck and lept onto Pheledra, one perched on each shoulder, tails held straight up bristling like two antennas.

Pheledra was surprised. “Well – if you’re that insistent.”

Fabby beamed them down once more and they materialized in front of a crumbled athletic stadium. This time, Pheledra stayed firmly attached to Blue. Inky and Ginger were clinging to her shoulders and Green was right behind.

After they’d gone a ways, four soldiers came around a corner right in front of them. Blue and Green ducked to one side as the soldiers opened fire but missed. Pheledra hit one of the soldiers with a stun ray. He dropped where he was and his buddies grabbed him and pulled him to safety. More soldiers came and once again the droids had to put up the force field. This time, they managed to escape by going to the side and hiding under a bridge.

“Blue,” said Pheledra, “you and Green stay here. I’m going to walk over to where Orange and Boots are located under the rubble.”

Pheledra carefully made her way down what used to be streets. She ducked into the one of the demolished structures whenever she heard the soldiers. Finally, she reached Orange. “Where’s Boots?”

“He’s right up through that pipe,” Orange said as he gestured toward the pipe with his remaining arm and hand. “The other end must be sticking out somewhere above. Right now, he’s exhausted. If he could just scoot himself along and not give up, he’d make it on through.”

Pheledra found Boots in her mind and felt his despair. If you can just go a little further sweetheart, you’ll come out the other end of the pipe. She gave him a little psychic nudge from behind.

Boots felt some strength returning now that Pheledra was near, so he wiggled his paws. By hanging onto the rust inside the pipe, he could drag himself forward a tiny bit at a time. Inky and Ginger hopped to the ground and ran out from under the rubble to find the end of the pipe above. When they located it, they both sniffed and meowed. Boots was thrilled to hear their voices. It was a real encouragement and their meows weren’t very far away. Boots yowled in reply and wiggled his paws a little more.

Don’t give up, kitten, Pheledra’s voice said in his head, Inky and Ginger want to see you … you’re almost there.

Boots thought he could make out a little light ahead but it became harder and harder to get a grip on anything to move up the pipe. Slipping back down was no problem. Although the pipe now went up at a steep angle, he only needed to flare out his hind legs to pervent any backslip – but – he was now completely worn out and couldn’t find a grip at all.

Pheledra was aware of everything that was happening. “We need to get something into that pipe for Boots to snag onto,” she softly whispered.

She looked out from under the rubble and saw some soldiers poking around. They were still searching and were very near. Too near for her to risk being out from under cover. Inky, Ginger … she interfaced strongly with them and impressed the situation into their minds and they understood.

They both began a search through the rubble. Ginger found some suspenders and put one end down the pipe, but the suspenders were too short – beyond their friend’s reach.

Inky discovered a large curtain. Around the bottom was an embroidered edge. One end was loose, so he began ripping the rest of it off. He held the curtain down with his paws and yanked with his teeth until all the edging came off. He carried an end over to the pipe and put it in. Ginger pushed it down with her forepaws.

Something hit Boots on the nose and put him on alert. When he felt with his claws, they snagged right into the thin piece of embroidery. Little by little he pulled himself upward. On the other end, Inky had a forepaw snagged onto the makeshift rope and held it down with his weight. Ginger felt like she had done her job, so she sat grooming herself and expecting to see Boots any micron. Pheledra was in tune with all the cats and encouraging Boots but he had come to the end of his strength and could not pull himself up any more. He just cried and hung on. Orange ventured a look outside and saw another group of soldiers coming. “It’s still not safe for us to leave,” he whispered to Pheledra.

Pheledra was urging Inky and Ginger along. Pull him. Pull him. She carefully formed the picture in her mind of what Inky and Ginger needed to do. Finally, they got the idea and began to pull on the embroidered curtain edging. She contacted Blue and Green through their psychic sensors. If its safe, get over to help Inky and Ginger pull Boots up.

The soldiers just passed us, Green telepathed. We’ll come.

The two droids flew quietly over to where the cats were struggling and soon had Boots out of the pipe.

Check him out and give him some energy food and water. Pheledra telepathed as looked out from the rubble and saw that the coast was clear.

“We can fly over there now,” Orange whispered, “the soldiers are well past us.”

When they arrived, Pheledra stepped off Orange and saw Inky and Ginger licking Boots. She embraced him and kissed him on his forehead. Soon he was able to lap up a little fresh water provided from Green’s emergency pack and Blue gave him a tasty morsel of dry food which revived him considerably. They heard the sound of soldiers rushing toward them. They had seen the lights when the droids opened their camouflage coverings to get the emergency food and water. Shots rang out. Blue and Green immediately threw off their coverings and boosted their lights up to blinding intensity. The soldiers yelled as they looked away and took cover.

“Fabby, beam us up now,” said Pheledra.

Fabby was already prepared and had them pinpointed. In a micron, they were inside a fourth density detoxification bubble on the control deck of the Firefly.

“We’ll have to wait 10 zerons for detoxification,” said Pheledra. “We are all toxic now after rolling around in the mud and crawling through that rubble. I am so proud of all of you. You stuck together and worked in near perfect coordination to accomplish this rescue. Orange, Fabby will fix your damage and you’ll be good as new. We’ll get Boots into the Protoron and he’ll be okay too.”

“Thanks, Pheledra,” said Orange, “I’m just so sorry that Red was lost.”

“Why don’t we figure out a way to get him?” asked Blue. “If we could just reach him somehow, I’m sure he could be restored.”

“Yeah,” said Green, “we shouldn’t leave here without him. He’d do the same for us.”

“Reaching him is the problem,” said Pheledra, “but maybe we can come up with something if we put our minds to it. I just hope he is not crushed beyond repair.”

“He’s pretty tough,” said Orange, “I’m for taking any risk necessary to recover him.”

The detoxification process finished and they stepped out onto the control deck of the Firefly. Fabby immediately rushed Boots to the Protoron. Nel and Nahvar congratulated everyone and Nel hugged Inky and Ginger with all her might. The cats went on up to the observation deck to curl up and wait for Boots.

Pheledra, Fabby, Nel, Nahvar and the three droids gathered on the observation deck to talk.

CONTIUE: 47) Fruits and Nuts

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