Flight of the Falcon

Once upon a time, somewhere in the vast reaches of space, there was a rumor of someone who could find things that others might want to keep hidden... objects, information, people. No one knew who this someone was... no one had ever seen him... or her... or maybe it was them. All anyone knew was that this someone was called the Falcon.

Sharp golden eyes peered out from under thick black eyebrows, raking the bar for signs of the Ferengi. Although the tanned, leathered face of the old man showed no emotion, inwardly the Falcon seethed. Damn Ferengi! It was almost never worth the trouble having to deal with that particular disgusting race. But the Falcon's current client very badly wanted the merchandise this particular Ferengi was selling.

Not seeing the contact, he wound past the drunken patrons to the bar's darkest corner, where there was a clear view of the bar's entrance. The Falcon hated this place, but it was the best location within a parsec to meet clients. In fact, it was the only place within a parsec to meet clients... or anyone else, for that matter.

The bar's other patrons, all miners from the nearby asteroid belt, ignored the stooped, gnarled man as he passed among them. The old miner, holding onto the dreams of his youth, had become a commonplace figure here. He rarely spoke, he never smiled, and he minded his own business. He quietly drank himself into senselessness every night, and then staggered out to some lonely corner of the base to sleep it off.

No one knew his name. No one knew where he came from. And no one cared.

Tonight, the old man sat in his corner longer than usual. The last customer had just left when he unsteadily pulled himself upright, knocking his chair over in the process.

"Barkeep!" he shouted, waving his empty mug in the air. "Bring me nuther one!"

"Mister, I'm gettin' ready to close up here. And I think you've had plenty to drink."

The Falcon slammed the mug down on the table, hard. "I said another one!" he shouted, sounding far less intoxicated than he looked.

The bartender, being a somewhat intelligent being, merely shrugged and shook his head as he poured another mug of ale for the old man. As the bartender was pouring the drink, and the Falcon was righting his chair, a tall figure appeared in the doorway of the small bar. Backlit by the lights in the corridor, the newcomer was featureless.

The Falcon tensed... the pretense of drunkenness forgotten.

If he had acted immediately, the human might not have caught him. But he had hesitated, perhaps not believing the human's eyes could adjust so quickly to the darkness of the bar, perhaps not believing that a mere human could be dangerous. Although his hesitation was only a second's worth, it was enough to assure his doom. Before he could seize the power within him to move, to change, to flee... a sharp gnawing sting bit into his side. He toppled over, paralyzed, pulling the table with him, the empty mug still clutched in bony fingers.

Just before losing consciousness, he heard the human saying, in a voice filled with humor, "Time to get your wings clipped, Falcon. You've made Nabob very, very angry."

A long time later, the Falcon woke, stiff and hurting. Resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to shift, to change, he lay quietly. The floor beneath him smelled of damp soil and the gravitational pull of this planet was ever so slightly less than the artificial gravity of the base. Since there were no habitable planets within several days journey of the tiny base, the Falcon had to assume he'd been kept unconscious for quite a long time. The dull, aching pain in his joints seemed to confirm that suspicion.

A sound outside his prison door alerted him to the visitor seconds before the door crashed open. Instinct told him to flee, to run, to hide... reason held him firmly in his place. His eyes adjusted immediately to the bright light streaming into the tiny room. It was difficult to tell just what species the newcomer was... he might have been human, but he was so disfigured and ugly, the Falcon couldn't be sure. And big. This guy was really big.

"Dint Nabob tell ya not ta spy on his operation, Falcon?"

The old man blinked, feigning confusion. "Spy? Falcon?" he said querulously. "My name is Moog Ordon... I'm just an old miner."

A booted foot lashed out and caught the old man in the ribs with enough force to break the ribs. And break they did, sending a shocking wave of pain through the old man's body before he could react to still the sensations and reform the ribs. As the ribs reformed in their proper position and the pain disappeared, the Falcon got unsteadily to his feet.

The old man stood hunched and trembling, looking every day of his apparent eighty plus years.

Damn, he thought, I really hate human form.

"Don play stupid, Falcon. Nabob knows who ya are. He's really pissed off at ya, old man." Nabob's minion laughed. "Dat's really funny, ya know. Da Falcon is an old man!"

The Falcon tightly controlled his urge to shift to another form and kill the insolent bastard. It wasn't easy... every instinct was telling him to kill. Hang on, hang on, he told himself. As stupid as he is, he might have information you don't.

"Jealous, sonny?" the Falcon taunted, his voice gravelly. "Did you think old folks were totally worthless?" The old man spit on the ground at the younger man's feet. "That's what I think of Nabob. You can tell him I spit on him and his operation."

This was dangerous. But if he wasn't already dead, Nabob had a reason for him still be alive, even if it was only to torment him. So sonny boy wasn't going to kill him. Yet.

The human struck with such swiftness and ferocity that the Falcon suspected the man might not be strictly human. He was either pumped up on some undoubtedly illegal drugs or had a cybernetic implant or two. As his hand slammed into the Falcon's face, the old man moved with the swing and let himself be thrown against the wall of the tiny prison.

That's it, asshole. I'm gonna kill you now, you sadistic bastard!

He'd be dead now if he were human. That blow was meant to break open his head and snap his neck. As it was, it broke his cheekbone. The Falcon knelt on the ground for a moment, still resisting his killing urge, and reformed the fractured bone.

He looked up at the hulking figure, golden eyes blazing hatred. For a second, his captor was unnerved by the old man, then moved slowly toward him.

"So you're going to do Nabob's dirty work for him and kill me, are you?" hissed the Falcon.

The other man stopped and stared for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Kill ya? No way! I'm only gonna hurt ya." The grin on the hideous face only caused the man to be more revolting. "Nabob is intendin ta keep ya here on his little prison planet til ya die. Ya ain't worth sellin." The Falcon could see the man tensing to strike again. "Ya ain't gonna survive long here, though... old man."

That's what you think, scum, he thought as he grinned. As his captor's arm swung back for another blow, a transformation took place as the Falcon let his instincts take over. There was a moment of almost nauseating distortion for anyone who might have been watching... one moment an old man knelt cringing on the ground, the next moment a tawny mountain lion crouched ready to attack, golden eyes shining with fury. In his moment of hesitation and disbelief, the Falcon's captor sealed his doom. He didn't even have time to cry out before the lion leapt at his throat and tore it out with sharp, angry teeth.

Certain that the man was dead, the lion flowed then into a beautiful young woman with long raven hair and golden eyes. She dabbed delicately at the corner of her mouth with her finger.

"And don't call me old man again," said the Falcon with a humorless smile.

The warm air beneath the hawk's outstretched wings lifted it higher over the desolate plain. Circling and searching, keen golden eyes swept the area for something the bird thought it had seen, though thinking in this form was far more difficult than in many of the Falcon's other forms. Swooping down, yet still far above the brown, dried vegetation, the Falcon investigated an anomaly near an outcropping of rocks.

Yes! It was a ship!

As the circles became smaller and the bird drifted closer to the ground, it could see no signs of life. Disappointing. More than disappointing, really, as the Falcon could not get off this pathetic excuse for a planet unless someone eventually showed up to help. Nabob had a number of ships near his compound, but while the Falcon possessed many skills, flying a ship was not — yet — one of them.

The hawk lightly touched down on the rocks overlooking the small ship. It was only about 30 meters away, but the Falcon could see no signs of life. A slight exertion of will, a nauseous spatial distortion, and where a bird once perched now sat a sleek mountain lion. Perhaps the Falcon would be able to hear something.

The big cat was motionless for long minutes, the only sign of life its barely quivering ears. Finally, a smile seemed to spread across the feline features. Something was making noise inside the ship.

The Falcon considered for several minutes the form to take for investigating... non-threatening, fairly strong, quick, agile. The cat leapt gracefully from the rocks, and as it landed, it transformed so that a young woman stood regarding the ship. She stood nearly six feet tall, a nondescript gray jumpsuit covered her slender body. Her long black hair was plaited in two braids on either side of her head; along with her dusky skin tone and high cheekbones, it gave her the appearance of an Amerind of old Earth. Her golden eyes were an anomaly, however, as they searched the ship and surrounding area.

The ship didn't appear to be terribly damaged... one of the landing rudders was bent out of shape and the nose slightly dented, but that was the extent of damage the Falcon could see. The hatch was opened and she could hear muttering coming from inside. This could be her ride off this planet.

"Hello, in the ship!"

The voice and banging stopped immediately and a moment later a face peered around the edge of the doorway. It was obviously feline and covered with jet back fur; green eyes shone with intelligence. The face looked surprised.

"Hello." The voice was rich and deep, and showed as much surprise as the owner's facial features. "I thought I was alone on this deity-forsaken rock of a planet." The... man... stepped into the doorway and lightly jumped to the ground.

He was a cat, yet stood upright in the humanoid manner. He wore a pair of faded blue shorts, but no other clothing covered his sleek fur. His tail twitched lazily behind him. His feet... or paws... or perhaps a cross between the two... were bare. His hands were more humanoid, but they were covered with the same black fur and the Falcon noticed retractable claws at the tips of the fingers. He held a welding tool in one hand and a greasy rag in the other which he draped over his arm before extending a hand.

"Hi. The name's Jason. I don't suppose you know anything about ship repairs?"

The Falcon was fascinated. She'd never met a creature like this before. He looked so much like a panther... the facial features, the ears, the languid movement of his tail... and yet he walked upright.

"Uh... no, I'm afraid I don't know much about ships at all." She took the proffered hand. "Shashina Windwalker."

The palms of his hands felt like a cat's pads, and his fur was certainly as soft as it looked. The Falcon wanted to study this new life form, learn how it was made and how it worked, so that she too could assume this form. However, that would be rude and in her guise of Shashina Windwalker, the Falcon was never rude. She released the panther's hand as he sighed.

"Oh well. Seems to be the story of my life... my unreliable little ship breaks down, I land on the nearest planet only to find the natives aren't much help — no offense — and then I somehow manage to fix the problem only to have the cycle start all over again six months, a year, two years later." He blinked, seeming to take Shashina's slightly dazed look as stupefaction over his babbling. "I'm sorry... I do tend to ramble on and on. I spend so much of my time alone, you know. Well, no, I guess you don't know. The dearest young wolf traveled with me for a year or so, but her path took her elsewhere... so I've been alone again for about eight months. Certainly long enough for me to fall back into my bad habit of talking just to hear the sound of a voice." He looked at the welding tool, staring at it for a second as though he was wondering why he held it. Then he shook his head. "You wouldn't mind keeping me company for a while, would you, Shashina Windwalker?"

Not even her cousin could ramble on quite like this. The Falcon shook her head and chuckled. "Well, I'm not a native and sure, I'll keep you company. And please, just call me Shashina... or even Shia would be fine. I'm wondering, though, if I could impose upon you to give me a ride off this... 'deity- forsaken rock of a planet', I believe you called it... when you leave."

Jason nodded vigorously. "Ah! Another political refugee, eh? War-torn planet, you're part of the faction on the losing side of the battle, and you just want to get out of here." He peered around him. "Though I have to admit I don't see much in the way of war."

Shashina smiled grimly. "No... kidnapped by slavers and trying to escape."

The panther's eyes grew wide and his ears flattened against his head. "Oh, that's another story entirely! Certainly, certainly... any assistance I can provide, it's at your disposal." He shook himself. "Slavers. Nasty trade, that."

"Mmmmm... yes. And I think I know some people who would be very interested in knowing the location of this little hideaway."

"Good, good. Well, I do need to get this guidance system working again." He gestured toward the hatchway of the ship, and vaulted through the doorway, turning to offer Shashina his hand. "Um... these slavers... they wouldn't be nearby, would they."

Shashina accepted Jason's assistance and scrambled into the ship. "Oh, no... no, they're about four days northwest of here as the, ah, hawk flies."

As she looked around, she noted that while the ship was small, it was well designed and neat. In the front of the ship was the piloting area, easily big enough for two people to work comfortably... perhaps three if they were willing to be a little cozier. The back of the ship held the cargo area, empty at the moment. It wasn't very big; Shashina had to wonder how Jason actually made a living because the cargo space could hold perhaps one rather large item or a number of very small items. It did occur to her that he might make his living in the same way she did, but she refrained from saying anything.

The mid-section was taken up by a small galley and sitting area, and another closed-off room that she assumed was Jason's sleeping quarters. The kitchen area contained a small food preparation unit, a table with attached benches that seemed to fold up against the wall, and a couch against the opposite wall.

"Four days, eh? Well, that should be more than enough time to fix this little problem even if they are following you. What do you think the chances are?"

Shashina turned from her inspection of the kitchen and following him forward. "It's hard to say. They know I'm gone. I know they, or rather their leader, want me very badly." She lightly touched a high, delicate cheekbone that had been broken days earlier in another form. "I left a rather dead body." She shrugged. "They'll be looking for me, that's certain. But unless they're a lot brighter than they seemed to be, it will take them a while to even figure out what they're looking for."

Jason looked up from where he'd settled himself on the floor, peering at her speculatively with intense green eyes. "Mmmmm. Sounds like a story there, Shashina." He pulled a circuit board into his lap and poised the welding tool above it. "Well, I don't pry. And it might not seem like it, but I'm a very good listener." He smiled, tilting his head to one side, remembering. "And I think sometimes it even helps... my listening... seemed to for Delia, anyway," he said before turning back to the task of ship repair.

With her characteristic voraciousness when it came to learning, Shashina quickly grasped the concepts of Jason's guidance system. They'd been working steadily for five days, and were nearly finished with the task. From the way his ship seemed to be patched together, Shashina wondered more than once how it had managed to get him this far.

"Jason, what is that tune you keep humming?" said the Falcon with some irritation. It wasn't that Jason's humming was unpleasant, or the tune annoying... but hearing the same thing over and over and over was enough to grate on anyone's nerves.

Jason looked up from under the control panel where he was fastening the component covers. "Huh?" He looked perplexed. "Oh... Oh! That." He smiled as he turned back to his work, his voice slightly muffled as he continued to speak. "It's a little ditty Delia wrote. She called it In Loving Tribute to My Brother Ellik." He chuckled. "I just call it Ellik."

Shashina handed him the screwdriver when his hand poked out from under the panel. "It's hideously sad and beautiful all at the same time."

He was silent for a moment as he finished his work, then sat up and wiped his hands on the rag beside him. "It is, isn't it?" He sat pensively on the floor, arms resting on his knees as he dangled the rag over his bare feet. "She adored her brother, you could tell. Oh, she loved the rest of her family dearly, but Ellik had a special and magical place in her heart." Jason smiled fondly at the memory of the young she-wolf. "Sometimes I wish I could have known him as well... he seemed to have been one of those rare, truly noble souls. He was killed when their prince was assassinated... from what I understand, he was the last of the prince's guards standing." He shrugged. "Maybe he really was that heroic, or maybe it was a young girl's memory... in any case, she spent the next five years or so trying to emulate him. Wound up nearly getting herself killed, too." He looked up at Shashina. "The funny thing is... in my eyes, she's just as much of a hero, though she refused to believe it. There's no way I could have survived what she did. I don't necessarily mean the psychological trauma she went through... though that was pretty bad... I'm talking about her physical injuries. Hell, she could barely walk when I met her!" He shook himself and bounded to his feet. "I'm a philosopher, Shashina. When it comes to pain... I run away." He grinned and began collecting his tools.

The Falcon watched silently. Over the past five days, he'd mentioned this Delia a number of times. Apparently, or so Shashina understood, she was a wolf... in the same way he was a cat. That is, she walked upright like a human. This was a whole new category of sentient beings that the Falcon had never encountered before. Understandably, she was fascinated.

"I still don't really understand, Jason... why did you take her off that planet of hers? You said she had no skills, she was badly injured, and what she really wanted to do was die fighting these same people who'd killed her brother."

Jason put the last of the tools in the wall cubby and fastened it securely before turning back to Shashina and sighing. He perched on the edge of the console and considered the question, focusing on a spot on the wall. "You know... I'm not really sure. Call it a hunch, if you want. I saw someone in a lot of pain... physical and emotional... and I just had this need to help her." He shrugged. "It was a thought that kept tickling at the back of my mind... that this young woman just didn't belong on that planet. And you want to know something else bizarre? When we got to the station where I had a cargo waiting, I had that same sort of feeling... that she needed to be there for some reason." He turned to Shashina. "Confused me, confused her. And sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing."

Shashina regarded the panther for a moment, then grinned and slapped his knee. "Jason, you think too much. She's alive and healthy, you taught her some valuable skills, and she's got the chance to actually have a good life. What could be wrong about that? We, on the other hand, had better get this ship of yours off this rock so I can let some certain people know that my little friend Nabob is here."

He chuckled and stood up. "Yes, Impatient One," he said teasingly. "Let's do one last visual check of the exterior, then we'll kick-start the engines and be on our way."

She followed him to the hatchway and was just about to jump out after him when her eyes caught movement in the distance. "Shit! Jason, we have trouble," she said as five men with blasters came over the rise to the north.

"Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go!" Jason muttered as he leapt back onto the ship, slapping Shashina with his tail as he punched the door lever.

"What the…??"

"The hell with the visual inspection! You gotta help me get this rig in the air!"

Shashina followed the panther to the control room and strapped herself into the co-pilot's seat. "What am I supposed to do?"

Jason dove into the pilot's seat, jabbing buttons on the console. "Watch that readout in the middle," he said, motioning to an LED in front of her. "Call off every tenth."

She nodded, her hands tightening on the armrests. "It's at twenty now."

"Great… twenty," he mumbled. "Close the outside vents…" His words became more indistinct and started making even less sense to Shashina.


Jason continued flipping switches and rotating dials. One of the switches activated the view screens. "How close are they?"

"Forty… about a hundred meters."

"Damn, damn, damn!"


He growled in frustration. The hatches were closed and locked. They couldn't get in.

"Sixty… closing fast… about eighty meters."

Of course, if they started shooting, and hit the engine…

"Seventy… and sixty meters. I don't think they've noticed what we're doing."

"No, probably not. Because we can't start the engines until the readout is ninety."

She guessed his state of mind from his tail's motion… twitching spasmodically. "Eighty…"

He hissed, a paw poised above the engine activation switch.

Long, tense seconds ticked by as the view screen showed Nabob's men getting closer and closer.


Jason jabbed the activation switch and they could feel the engines rumble to life. Unfortunately, the goons outside noticed as well. They started firing.


He patted the console gently. "C'mon, baby… you can do it." He winced as a blast hit the side of the ship, adding another scorch mark.


Another phaser blast hit the ship. Jason winced again. "I don't think they can punch through with those weapons…"


"We're ready as we'll ever be. We just need a hundred percent."

"Ninety-nine… ten meters…"

Jason had one had on the throttle and the other on the directional thrusters.

"One hundred!"

He slammed the throttle forward, turning the thrusters directly down. The small ship began to lift slowly, spraying dust and gravel at the five men. Although they tried to continue their barrage, the combination of not being able to see their target well and the battering by rocks meant nearly all their shots went wild. One more blast hit the ship before they were out of range.

Jason didn't relax yet, though. "Any red lights over there," he asked.

"Interior cabin pressure is red," replied Shashina.

The panther slammed his fist down on the panel without really looking, missing Shashina's hand by only a few millimeters.

"Ah… all better," she said sardonically as the readout flashed to green. "You really ought to get that fixed one of these days."

He glared at her for a moment. "Yeah. Right." Then he smiled his catlike grin. "Prepare for zero-g," he said as he finally buckled himself in.

© Kelly Naylor