Dorothea rolled with the waves then she rolled some more, making her own waves. She loved the water! Next incarnation she was coming back as a .... a cyber-porpoise! That would be fun!
"Doro! Stay still!" Johnny slapped her metal skin sharply. Not that he could actually hurt her. Even so, she began to moan and cry, complaining about being abused.
The humans loading her hold ignored her. Over the past month, they had gotten used to Doro's antics.
"Is she always like this?" Dr. Hannah Donnenfield asked, amused. She hadn't meet Doro before.
"When she's in her little girl mode, she is." Johnny took the clipboard and looked over what was written there. Outwardly he looked like an eleven-year-old boy but in reality he was older then most of the people in the New York Resistance. Like most of his people still on Earth, he had shed the black gloves while among friends but in deference to the rough terrain they were working in, kept his boots on. "When she's in her adult mode, she can be even worse."
"I heard that!" Doro cried out then sniffed, obviously sinking into the Ish'kirien version of a pout.
"Fontana's fault. He encourages it. Some pilots do. But don't worry. When she absolutely needs to be, she's all business. So this is the rundown of all the activities White Christmas is working on?"
"Yes. Will we be able to get a summary of what they're working on?"
"Probably not on this trip. Fontana wouldn't dare risking another trip back here. But I think Gator is planning something appropriately sneaky that will get us a better communications system." He handed the clipboard back. "That man has been hanging around the Taz way too long."
Hannah didn't bother asking what he meant. Instead, she looked over the ship lolling in the waves off the coast. She wasn't very big, maybe three times the size of a Visitor shuttle and rounded. Not round like the mother ship but more ... Hannah gave up trying to describe Doro. She was beautiful in her own way and graceful and sleek. Her skin was colored in grays and blues, which apparently helped to render her invisible in space. Her eyes, which startled everyone who saw her for the first time, were gray and always looked amused. She had them closed now and was humming cheerfully to herself, previous complaints forgotten.
'Little girl mode.' She thought in amusement. 'I'm standing on a
beach on a world currently occupied by alien reptiles watching a sentient
being loaded full of cargo by a bunch of talking hairless monkeys while speaking
to a being whose ancestors ran on all fours and bayed at the moon!'
Still smiling, she wandered over to the stack of pouches that would go in the cockpit or whatever it was called in Doro's case. Slipping the list, clipboard and all, into the top one, she sealed it shut and picked up a couple, carrying them over to the waiting boat. While Doro was allowing others into her hold to fill it, she would only allow Johnny into her main section. Johnny had managed to convince her to allow Hannah in to help him stow the pouches.
Once all the pouches were in the boat, she and Johnny pushed off, drifting over to where the hatch was. Johnny rapped sharply on it until finally, grudgingly Doro opened it. Johnny jumped in, tying the boat to a protrusion outside then taking the pouches as Hannah handed them over. When the boat was empty, he offered her his hand and helped her into the ship itself.
Hannah wasn't sure what to expect. A small crowded cockpit like in Earth airplanes or maybe something like a submarine control center. What she didn't expect was a room larger then most New York apartments. It looked, she realized, like a cross between a small apartment and the bridge of Star Trek's Enterprise. Control panels covered the curve of one wall while a small bedroom, living room, and kitchen followed the curve of another wall. A large, comfortable-looking chair was directly in front of the control panels, three smaller chairs were set unevenly behind it. There were, she noted, no loose objects lying around.
Johnny walked over to a panel set in the wall and rapped on it lightly. It slid open and he began to stow the pouches in it, Hannah handing them to him until all were safely packed away.
"Open this only to Hem or Kom, Doro."
"Okay." The voice came from behind Hannah. Startled, she turned to see what appeared to be a humanoid fox woman standing behind her. A red fox woman, she noted, with russet fur, black stockings, a white chin and belly, a white-tipped tail, and startling green eyes.
"Hannah, may I introduce Dorothea. In her adult mode." Johnny caught her startled look and smiled. "She's a hologram."
Hannah blinked, realizing she could see through the fox woman.
"Some ships' computers have actual separate bodies but smuggler ships are too small for large bodies. Some make do with 'mini-mes' ... small sentient extensions of themselves. Others use holograms. Doro, on Earth, it's considered polite to wear clothes. Even if you do have fur."
Doro blinked then what looked like a ancient Roman-style tunic appeared on her. "When should I leave?" Hannah noted that she even sounded older. This, she realized, was the business side of the ship.
"As soon as you're completely loaded. Another couple hours maybe. You know the plan?"
"Go down around the coast to Central America, look for the least populated area, wait for total darkness then hop over it. Get back into the water and head for the rendezvous."
"This is all business now, Doro ..."
"I know, I know. Don't worry. I haven't survived this long by taking unneeded chances." She shook her head hard, like a real fox would to chase away the flies buzzing around it's ears. "When I get there, I send out a message to Fontana and he'll meet me after dark."
"You're going to be right under the the LA mothership's nose, Doro." Johnny warned.
"I know." A fierce look entered the fox woman's eyes. "Don't forget, my parent was captured by the phrashi a hundred years ago."
Johnny looked startled then chagrined. "I had forgotten. Sorry, Doro."
Doro shrugged. "She survived." She sounded much older now, far from the child she'd been acting.
For some reason, those two simple words sent a chill down Hannah's spine. Johnny took a last look around the room then beckoned her to the door. "Good luck, Doro. And be careful."
"I am always careful. But the luck could help."
"It was nice to meet you, Doro." Hannah said, meaning every word. Doro blinked at her.
"If I hung around longer, you wouldn't be saying that." She gave Hannah an unmistakable wink then a toothy grin. "I suspect we will meet again."
Hannah smiled back before following Johnny out the door and back into the boat. The door closed firmly behind them and together they pulled the boat back to shore. Beaching it, they turned to watch the people loading Doro's hold.
"'She survived'?" Hannah ventured.
Johnny shrugged. "That's the best any of us can ever hope where the Visitors are concerned. Doro's parent made it back home with her crew more or less intact. A wonder unto itself."
"'More or less'? Do I want to know what that means?"
"No, you don't." Johnny turned and started toward the road. "There's still some food left, right?"
Hannah sighed. "Yes, there should be." She turned to follow him.
With her main room secured, Doro opened the panel to let loose her 'mini-mes'. Reginald popped right out, shaking himself vigorously. He resembled an Earth red fox, a real one, not an anthromorphic one. He stretched then sat down to scratch at himself.
"What do you think?" His voice was deep and with a cultured English accent. "Do we trust these Earthers?" Like Doro, he hadn't survived this long by taking chances.
Doro flipped her ears back. "I don't see why not. Johnny's vetted these humans completely. He trusts them. It's the ones at the other end I worry about." She glanced into the mini-mes' room and sighed. "Ully, Earth hawks do not come in magenta."
Ully stuck his head out. Save for his unusual coloring, he looked identical to a very large goshawk. "Why not?" He demanded peevishly.
"They just don't, okay? You've seen the pictures."
"Dull." He complained.
"Better dull then dead." Reginald pointed out and Ully blinked.
"Good point." His color shifted until he was the normal color of a goshawk. "When do we leave?" He eyed Reginald, who was now stretched out on the floor.
Doro rolled an eye until she could see the people loading her hold. "Another Earth hour perhaps."
"Good." Ully dropped abruptly down to snatch at Reginald's tail. Instantly a snarling, shrieking fight broke out between the two of them, with curses from a hundred different languages.
Doro sighed. This was going to be a long trip.
Author Notes: Just a little glimpse into what's
happening on the East Coast ...
Phrases: Ish'kiri: A species of sentient machines, one of the founding members of the Confederation.