The fox was sitting like an ancient monument to some long-forgotten fox god, a clear sense of aloofness and disdain about it.
“What does that mean?” Yori squinted.
“Sorry, I’m not entirely used to the vocabulary in this thing as of yet. I was created due to emergency circumstances, and I am not a naturally born life form.”
“Well that much seems clear,” Leah interjected head leaning against the side of her cushioned headrest.
“Why would that be so clear?” The fox asked.
“Because you’re a machine,” stated Vivek who had got himself some sweets while the waiting for Colin and the fox get through decontamination which he was now stuffing into his mouth enjoying the bizarre spectacle.
“So?” The fox sounded perplexed.
“Stop getting distracted, what emergency?” Yori pulled the discussion back to the point.
“Ah, yes, the container is collapsing, and you need to collect spares to repair it.” The fox stated as a matter of fact.
“Pardon?” Vivek looked confused.
“Yes,” Vivek nodded as though he grasped that part.
“Right,” he looked unsure but nodded anyway.
“You need to get spares.”
“Hm,” now he looked lost.
“To repair it!”
“Why?” Colin jumped in at that point to rescue the floundering Vivek.
“Because it’s collapsing.”
“So?” Leah added unimpressed by the whole affair.
“If it collapses the galaxy will be destroyed?”
“Pardon?” Vivek asked a look of a total loss on his face.
“Are you simple?”
“He is, but, in this case, I can’t help but feel for him here.” Case said, chin in palm, eyes focused on the peculiar companion.
“What is the container?” Yori asked, taking bringing the conversation back under control.
“It, well, it contains, well, the thing. You know?” The fox seemed both certain and uncertain at the same time.
“No, we don’t” Colin chimed in now.
“How don’t you!?” It seemed as though it was the companions turn to be lost.
“Why would we?” Yori was starting to seem exhausted by the thing.
“Because you have the codes.”
“What codes?” Colin followed up.
“Your, wait a moment, DNA!” It thought for a moment.
“Carry on” Yori prompted it.
“Well you see you need codes to open the gates and the storage that have the spares, and you have those codes in your DNA.”
“So you’re saying, that our DNA has codes in it to open alien storage locations and gates, what are gates?” Vivek said with a raised eyebrow and a boiled sweet between his teeth.
“Yes, and gates, gates are how you travel between the stars.”
“Wait, can these gates get us home?” Leah perked up.
“I suppose so.” Colin’s eyes squinted for a moment sensing a distinct non-commitment that the others didn’t seem to acknowledge.
“Isn’t the one on this planet broken, do you know where there are others?” Case probed.
“Not on the planet no, it seems that it was faulty and this second time around something must have happened that broke it.”
“Then we’re done for.” Leah slumped back in her seat, and the others all looked downbeat.
“Though I suppose the container isn’t on this planet is it?” Colin asked head resting sideways on the palm of his hand, elbow perched on a console.
“Exactly! There isn’t another one on the planet, but according to the records I acquired before heading out to find you, there should be a gate on the outskirts of this system.”
“Will it still be working?”
“I see no reason why it wouldn’t be.”
“Can we rewind a moment,” Yori jumped in again, “what is going to be released when the container opens?”
“Them!” Yori did not look impressed, Vivek’s eyes danced between Yori and Colin to see where this went.
“Excuse me?” Yori replied her small hand, forming a clenched fist.
“Case, get me a spanner I am going to smash this accursed thing to pieces.” Yori stood up abruptly.
“Wait, you can’t smash me to pieces!”
“Why?” Yori yelped.
“Yeah, why?” Colin added.
“Because you won’t be able to open the gate! No getting home!” Yori sat down eyes burning with frustration.
“You should be careful her temper is legendary.” Colin smiled and glanced at Yori a moment, the fox also looked at her, it was hunched backwards and looking a bit startled.
“I concur. But I’m sorry, them is as good as I can get, them, the ancient enemy! That’s about all I have on Them!”
“So, where are we?” Colin asked at last.
A small device popped out of the fox’s forehead and projected an image of the galaxy, a line pointed down at a star and had a designation.
“IL-22781, catchy,” Vivek smirked. The others looked in mute horror. Vivek looked around a moment, not sure what he’d missed until he looked again.
“That can’t be correct,” Colin said quietly.
“Well, it is.”
Colin sat up and leant back in his seat and brought his hand to his mouth. The others looked shocked, Yori’s eyes grew wider than he’d ever seen them even when she was at her most frenzied.
“That’s over one hundred and twenty thousand light-years away from Lava-227.”
“Where is Lava-227?”
“The planet you kidnapped us from.” Colin’s eyes didn’t move from the projection of the map, and his voice remained monotone.
“Oh, yes, well, anyway, we need to reach here.” Another line appeared out of the projection near the galactic core. The image of a large gas giant with some kind of orbital ring around it, swirling brown and orange clouds on its surface, a small dim red sun.
“How do we get there?” Everyone else had become mute just trying to process the staggering distances.
“Well, there are a few different routes, on average, without incident, maybe, fifty jumps?”
“But why when we went so far in a single one before!” Yori spoke up.
“The way the gates are entangled, this world was a prototype gate for interconnecting galactic hubs.”
“If we do this you’ll get us back home, right?” Colin asked and leant forward.
“How did you get that companion?”
“It was found in the container depot we matter transported it to the long-range station, and then we transferred me into it.”
“The transport logs indicated that it was where the owner came from, so we assumed there would be more humans where it came from. We were not wrong! Though maybe it took a while longer than expected.”
“Okay, well we are members of the space adventurers corp, and this sounds like an adventure. Are we all on board?”
“Well, it doesn’t seem we have much choice,” Leah said and shrugging.
“To adventure, and beyond!” Vivek leapt up, Colin thought that the sugar must have finally gotten to him.
“I’d never turn down the chance to see alien treasure.” Case smiled and looked over her shoulder at the rest of them.
“I’m game, let’s do this.” Yori smiled, the fox seemed to look around a bit confused. Colin nodded his head a few times.
“Well Fox, it looks like we’re in.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed them.
“I don’t think I fully grasp your motivations, but I am pleased that you will be saving the galaxy.”
Colin grinned and stood up.
“Get the ship prepped for dust off, we’re leaving at dusk tomorrow.”
The cockpit became a hive of activity as they checked readings and stock levels. The fox had to occasionally move out of the way as nobody paid it much mind. “You’ll have to learn to move like a ship hand.” Colin had said to it in passing, and it concluded it would have to investigate that behaviour.