Yuki walked up to the driver’s side and peeked through the closed window. The driver, an older man with a white beard and moustache, had his phone in his lap. His head was laid back against the head rest and his mouth was hanging wide open, she could hear him snoring even with the window all the way up. She tapped gently at first, then harder when he wouldn’t respond, then so hard that she thought anyone within a mile would surely hear.
Finally, he jerked forward, his phone dropped to the floor. He looked toward her and jerked back in surprise. Realizing who it was, he ran his hand down his face, trying to rub the sleep away, then reached for a set of black rimmed glasses from on top of the center console. He turned to her again and smiled, tapped a button on the arm rest and the window slid down. It went about a quarter of the way then stopped. His smile changed to a look of concern; he pushed the button again and the window started back up. It reached the top and started back down again but stopped, again. He motioned with a finger for her to wait and the window went back up, then down again. It stopped at the same point. She could hear him say something, but she couldn’t make it out. He leaned up to the opening and said, “Sorry, but I don’t think it feels like going any further down today.”
She stepped up to the window opening and said, “That’s okay, are you John?”
He leaned in again, “Yep, and you must be Yuki?”
She shook her head, paused, then said, with an embarrassed look, “Take me to your leader, Earthling.”
He laughed out loud, “How long did it take you to think that up?”
She sighed, “I didn’t, Qbit wanted me to say it, so I promised him I would. He said he was going to check with you to see if I said it, sooo… sorry.”
He laughed again, “That sounds exactly like something Qbit would say.” He motioned with his hand for her to come around to the other side. “Come on in and have a seat.” The window went back up.
Yuki walked around the front of the truck to the passenger side and pulled open the door. She tossed her bag onto the floor in front of the seat, twisted off her gloves and stuffed them into her helmet then placed that on top of the bag. In one smooth motion, she stepped onto the running board, pulled herself up into the seat, and shut the door.
John nodded his head in approval, “I would have thought the extra gravity would have made all that a little harder to do.”
Yuki slapped the side of her leg, “The suit has a built-in exoskeleton, it makes stuff like that a lot easier. She looked behind her at a mess of tools, coffee cups and clothing.
He said, “You’ll have to excuse the mess, but I don’t usually have anyone else in here with me. It’s not everyday I pick up beings from outer space.”
“No problem. You should see the closet in my room.”
He laughed and said, “Does it float around everywhere?”
“No, the base has some gravity, so it just kinda sits there in a heap.”
“I see…uh, oh hey, I’m being rude, I’m John Lee, jack of all trades and master of none. I’ll be your chauffeur. Um. You know what a chauffeur is, right? I mean, I don’t think you have any of them on the moon… or am I being ignorant?”
“Hold on a second. Let me look it up using my glasses.” Yuki focused on the lens of her glasses and said, “Chauffer.” There was a brief second then she said, “Chauffeur, noun, a person employed to drive a private or rented automobile.” She turned to him and said, “Correct?”
“Yeah, that’s cool. Does everyone on the moon have those?”
“Not everyone, just the astronauts.”
His face lit up as he said, “You’re an astronaut! The kind that goes into space, astronaut?”
“Yep, that kind.”
“But, you’re just a kid, I mean, what are you thirteen?”
For some reason thoughts of her crew flooded her head. She turned away and a with a noticeable sadness in her voice, she replied quietly, “Fifteen.”
“Oh, hey, I’m sorry. That was stupid of me, I didn’t mean anything negative, it’s just I’m used to seeing grownups, I mean, adults, as astronauts.”
Yuki looked to the floor, “Can we change the subject, please?”
“Man, I’m so sorry.” John paused for a second then asked, “Um, can you look up on your glasses to see how one might go about removing their foot from their mouth?”
Yuki’s attention went back to her glasses. With a straight face she said, “It says to use a cutting action.” She jerked her thumb towards the back seat, “Have you got something sharp back there? I can help if you need it.” A movement from behind John’s seat caught her eye.
John laughed nervously, “No, I think I can handle that myself. Sorry, again.”
She looked back again but didn’t see anything. She turned to John and said, “No, I’m the one that should be sorry. It’s a long story, but, basically, I’ve had to leave my crewmates in order to come here and it still kinda hurts.” She kept glancing to the back seat. There it was again, under a t-shirt!
He noticed that she kept looking behind him. “Is there something wrong?”
Yuki twisted around and quickly pulled the t-shirt up and away. “There’s something moving back here.”
“What? Uh oh, did it get out?”
She dropped the shirt quickly and pulled her arm back. “What got out? What’s back there?”
“I’m not sure what it is, exactly. Qbit gave me a small carrier and told me to give it you when we got to the boat. It was supposed to stay asleep until then. Maybe I loosened the latch when I threw that stuff back there.”
Suddenly, to her left, a small head popped up from under a pair of white insulated pants.
“There it is!” shouted Yuki. “It’s an animal with a white head! I saw it! It’s small. Can I get it? Does it bite”
“I don’t even know what it is!”
Whatever it was, disappeared again. Slowly, Yuki reached back and pulled the pants toward her. “It’s not there anymore.”
John twisted around and started moving some of the tools to see if it was under them. “There!” He pointed to the other side of the seat. “By the jacket! I saw a head, but it looked brown, not white.”
“Do you think there’s two?” Yuki said with excitement in her voice.
“Man, I hope not!”
Yuki shifted a snowmobile catalog and there, pushed up against the back of the seat, were two eyes looking back at her. She whispered, “There it is, I see it I see it. Quick, what should I do?”
“Shhh easy, you don’t want to scare it anymore than it already is. Try talking to it.”
Suddenly, her mind raced back to the conversation her and Qbit had had in the breakroom. That’s when he mentioned her ability to talk to animals and that she would have an animal companion. Did he know then about the thing that was in the back seat? “How? What do you mean talk to it?” She was worried that he knew something about her supposed ability to talk to animals.
“What do you mean how? Haven’t you ever talked to a cat? Like, “Here, kitty, kitty, or something like that?”
Keeping her eyes on the small set of brown eyes, she said, “Uh, no, living on the moon, no pets allowed, remember?”
“Oh yeah, sorry, I forgot. I don’t know, just whisper something reassuring, like, it’s okayyy, or, come on, psss, psss, psss, that sort of thing.”
“Psss, psss, psss?”
“Yeah, everyone knows that’s what you do, right?”
She raised her eyebrows.
John said, “I don’t know, I’m guessing here!”
“Alright, alright, I’ll try.” She shifted in her seat again, then slowly extended her hand toward the animal. “It’s okay, don’t be afraid, we won’t hurt you. It’s okay.” She moved her hand a little closer, but instead of coming out, it pulled further back. She sighed, “It’s not working.”
“You didn’t do psss, psss, psss.”
She stared at him with a look. As she turned, she whispered, “Psss, psss, psss. What animal says psss, psss, psss.”
She started to extend her arm again when John yelled, “Wait! I know, try giving it some food. In that white bag back there, are some French fries, try that.”
Yuki picked up a bag with her right hand and another with her left, “Which one? There’s like a million of them back here.”
“Let me look…here, this one.” He grabbed a less crumpled bag off the floor and opened it up. He looked in first, then reached in with his hand. “Here’s a good one, try this.”
Yuki held on to it with the very tips of her fingers, trying to get them as far away from any sharp teeth as possible. She slowly extended her hand toward the small animal, still pressed against the seat. “Here you go.”
John whispered, “psss, psss, psss.”
“Psss, psss, psss, are you hungry? Mmm, try this, it’s good.” The small head moved out a bit. She could now make out a small snout with a black nose at the tip; its nostrils were working feverishly at smelling the fry. Slowly the animal opened its mouth, gently took it between its teeth, and pulled it back into the darkness.
“It’s got it, it’s eating it!” She turned and gave John a huge smile. “That’s so cool!”
“See, it’s all in the “psss, psss, psss. Give it another one, see if you can get it to come out further.”
“Okay, here you go, here’s another one. Do you want some more?”
The small head slowly came back out, Yuki moved the fry away a little so that it had to come out further to get it. The small, black, wiggly nose, followed by a brown muzzle, slowly came into view.
John whispered, “It looks like an Artic fox.”
It crept out far enough so that they could see its brown eyes and finally, with a slight snapping sound, its ears sprang out.
“Wow!” said Yuki. “I had no idea their ears are that big!”
John was equally surprised. “Man, I’ve never seen a set that big before. They’re way huge!”
The fox stayed where it was and chewed on the fry. John handed her another one, she held it even further out. “Come on, let’s see the rest of you.”
Without hesitation the small mammal moved forward then sat between them, gently taking it from Yuki’s fingers. It seemed to be unafraid.
They both watched it chew. Yuki said, “When I first noticed it, I thought it had a white head.”
John put down another fry, “Their coats change to white during the winter months, to match the snow, but it doesn’t change instantly like a chameleon or, what do you call them, um, a cuttlefish, that’s it, cuttlefish. They change their skin color instantly.”
Yuki was mesmerized by the beauty of the small creature sitting next to her. “Does psss, psss, psss work with cuttlefish too?” She smiled at him.
He shrugged his shoulders and chuckled, “I don’t know, I’ve never met one.”
As the fox ate, its tail flicked back and forth. Yuki watched as it went from resting on the white pants to resting on the dark coat, then back and forth again. Looking more closely, she noticed that any part of the tail that hit the white of the pants, turned white, then as it hit the dark jacket, it turned dark.
“Look at its tail.”
John watched it go back and forth. “What about it?”
“Look, when it hits the white, that part turns white. Then, when it hits the dark, it turns dark. I thought you said they can’t change that fast?”
“There’s no way it should be able to do that. When an Artic fox changes color, it’s their white fur growing in to replace the dark fur. It doesn’t happen like that!’ He pointed to the tail for emphasis.
“Then how is it doing it?”
“I don’t know… let’s try something.” He crumpled up the bag with the fries then placed it next to the fox’s side. Nothing happened. He moved it closer until it touched the fur, almost instantly, the fur turned white.
He said, “Woah, I’ve never seen anything like that before. He pulled it away and the fur turned back to brown. He repeated the experiment a couple more times. “Cool. But what about those ears? Why are they so big? That’s not normal either?”
Yuki said, “Hold on a second.” She put her hand to the side of her glasses and touched a button. “My glasses can also magnify an object. She bent closer to one of the ears and made some fine adjustments.
“Wires! I can see wires!”
“Yeah, his ear has a series of crisscrossing wires, they cover the whole thing. It looks sorta like a solar panel.”
“This thing is getting stranger by the minute. Let me check to see if it’s got a manual or something. I’m going to have to get out in order to get back there which means I’ve got to open the door. Make sure it doesn’t run out.”
“How am I going to do that? What if it runs!”
“I don’t know, grab it and hold it tight. “
“I’m not grabbing it, look at those teeth!”
“Hmm.” He reached into the back of the truck and pulled out a pair of gloves, “Here put these on.” She slowly took them from him and wiggled her fingers into the slightly stiff leather, trying not to frighten the fox while doing it.
She took a deep breath, “Okay, I’m ready.”
John slowly opened the door, they both watched it to see what its reaction would be. Yuki held her gloved hands out, ready to grab it if it looked like it was going to run. He opened the door just wide enough so he could slide his body out. The fox didn’t even seem to notice, he just sat there, cleaning a paw with its tongue. John slowly shut the door behind him then opened the back door and started digging through the pile of stuff, trying to find the carrier.
“I know it’s in here, somewhere. Ah, here it is!” He pulled out a small plastic carrier with a door on one end that swung back and forth. “Looks like when I threw something on top, it pushed open the latch.”
Yuki made a face and said, “That’s awful small. How long was the poor thing in there?”
“Not long, I picked it up from the co op about an hour before I went to get you. The owner of the store said she was instructed not to open the cage under any circumstances and not to feed it any food or water.”
The fox seemed to have had its fill of fries because it stepped off the center console and right into Yuki’s lap. She froze, with her gloved hands stuck in the air in front of her. The fox curled up and closed its eyes. She looked at John with a huge smile on her face then took off the gloves and gingerly stroked its head, “Didn’t she think that was strange?”
“No, the person assured her that it was perfectly fine, so she had no reason to doubt him.” He looked over the outside of the cage, “Nothing here, maybe it fell off.” He dug through some more stuff, “Here’s something!”
John held up a small plastic bag that contained a folded booklet. He pulled it out. “It’s the instruction manual for the, uh, Kit-suh-knee three.” He showed Yuki the pamphlet, “Is that how you say it?”
Still petting the fox with both hands, she blinked her right eye and spelled out loud, “K-i-t-s-u-n-e” then said “pronunciation.” Her gaze remained on the right lens of her glasses for a couple of seconds, “It’s pronounced kits-sue-nay. It’s Japanese for fox.”
“Japanese, huh. How about we call it Kit for short, that’s a lot easier to remember.”
She stroked the fox across it’s curled back, “Kit, that sounds good, I like it. What else does it say?”
“Kit is a cyborg…”
“A cyborg? Whaaat?” said Yuki in disbelief.
“That’s what is says.”
“But he feels so real. Look, his chest rises and falls as he breaths, (she twisted her body a little so that he could see then put her head against his chest) I can hear his heart beating and he feels warm. I’ve never seen a cyborg up close! Well, actually, I’ve never seen any cyborg before. Just videos and stuff. It’s remarkable. What else?”
John continued, “Um, let’s see, it’s designed to track and record the movements of the Artic fox. Kit is completely autonomous and can be programmed to transmit data at prescribed intervals.”
He looked up and said, “Y’know, I remember hearing about these things. I read somewhere that scientists were curious to find out how global warming was affecting the daily lives of the Artic foxes living in Northern Canada. So, they designed these…Kits, to get accepted by a family of foxes then keep track of their day-to-day habits.”
John continued scanning the manual, dragging his finger along the page as he read, “Here’s the part about his ability to change colors, it says nano bots, in each individual hair, can “see” (he made an air quote with his free hand) changes in the surrounding light then match that color.”
“This is all so incredible. What kind of power supply does her have?”
“Umm… re-chargeable biobatteries convert the glucose in foods into energy using special enzymes.” He scanned some more. “Those large ears are apparently solar cells, like you said. They recharge the batteries and also act as a transmitter and receiver. And, listen to this, Kit can withstand high amounts of radiation, extreme temperatures, and flatten itself to get into small spaces.”
He flipped the page. “He also has advanced artificial intelligence that can communicate via electronic telepathy.”
She looked up at John, “Why would he need that? Besides, do foxes even communicate that way?”
“I don’t know, maybe the scientist know something about the foxes we don’t. Maybe they were planning to use them to take over the earth!”
“Very funny.” She paused for a second then said softly, “Hmmm, maybe that’s what they use to talk to….” She was afraid to finish the sentence; John might think she was a nut if he found out she was able to talk to animals!
John looked at his watch and said, “What I do know, is that we need to get going” He got back into the driver’s seat, buckled up, put the truck in gear, and checked his mirrors. He motioned to the seat belt hanging by the window and said, “You should buckle up.”
Yuki pulled out the belt, found the other end and clicked it together. “What about Kit?”
The truck started down the empty road. “I’m afraid I don’t have a seat belt small enough for him?”
“Yuki smiled, “No, what are we going to do with him.”
He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know, Qbit said he was yours, sooooo, I guess, he goes with you.”
“Me? I don’t know the first thing about caring for an animal!”
“From the looks of what he can do, I don’t think you need to worry.”
The truck kicked up a cloud of dust as they drove. ‘I’m going to take you to the general store first, it’s about ten minutes from here. We can pick you up some clothes that are a bit more suitable for the climate.” He looked at her for a second and asked, “Is the stuff you’re wearing warm enough? It looks awfully thin.”
“I just stepped off the moon wearing the same thing.”
“Oh, yeah, right. Still looks too thin to keep you warm enough.”
“You’d be surprised how well it works.”
“Yeah, but it makes you stand out like a sore thumb. Q said he wanted you to keep a low profile, y’know, so people don’t ask a lot of questions.”
“Once we’re finished there, we’ll head to the boat. Jordin and his son…”
John looked over at her and smiled, “I guess we both have Qbit’s very detailed list.”
She tapped the side of her glasses and said, “It’s all here, minus some of the more, how shall I say, trivial bits.”
“I hear you. Y’know, Qbit speaks very highly of you and wants to make sure nothing happens to you that will make him feel…”
“No! Disappointed? Why would you say that? He’d feel terrible if anything ever happened to you. He worries that things are moving too fast for you and you might not have time to make sense of it all.”
She was a little surprised by the speaks very highly part, but she still felt as though he thought she couldn’t handle the mission. “I’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing.”
“I’m sure you do, but remember, this is more than just about being dumped into an unforgiving environment on a planet you’ve never visited before. It’s also about dealing with people from your past and learning about things you had no idea you could do.”
She knew he must have been referring to her mother, but she wasn’t sure if he meant the talking to animals thing. She looked at him and asked, “What things?”
“You know, the Keeper stuff.”
She looked down at Kit, still curled up in her lap, “I wasn’t sure if you knew about that.”
“Yeah, a little. I was thinking about it when I read the stuff about the electronic telepathy abilities of Kit. Did you think the same thing?”
“Yeah, I was worried you might say something about it. Make fun or something.”
“Make fun? No way! I’m jealous, it must be cool to be able to do that.”
“I don’t know. I kinda have doubts about the whole thing.”
He glanced down at Kit, “Have you picked up anything from him?”
“No.” She shrugged her shoulders, “I’m not even sure how it works.”
John laughed, “Maybe Qbit hasn’t sent the list on how to do it yet.”
She laughed too, “Yeah, it’ll probably be a ten-page document.”
They both laughed at that. Yuki felt much more at ease knowing he knew, and that it didn’t make a difference to how he thought about her.
They pulled up in front of a metal building with a red and green stripe across its length and the words Co Op written in big red letters. John threw the truck in park and announced, “We’re here.”
Yuki instinctively checked the time on her glasses. It was after midnight, but still light out. She looked down at Kit, “What am I going to do about him while we’re inside?”
“Maybe there’s an on, off switch.”
Yuki gave him a look, “You’re serious?”
“I don’t know! I mean, how did they turn it on for the first time?”
Yuki ran her hand of Kit then with exaggerated amazement, said, “Look, he has a micro USB port instead of a belly button!”
“You’re messing with me, right?”
“Duh! He probably connects wirelessly.” She looked in the back seat and pulled the carrier up front with her, placing it on the console between the seats. “I’m going to see if he’ll go back in here.” She gently slid her hands under Kit’s body, careful not to wake him. It wasn’t easy, but she was able to maneuver him in without as much as a twitch.”
John said, “That was easy.”
“Yeah, too easy. Maybe he’s in some sort of sleep mode.”
“Could be. Come on we better get going, they’re going to be waiting at the boat.”
The only person in the store was the owner. She helped Yuki find a jacket, a pair of insulated overalls, insulated socks and boots, gloves, and a knit hat.
Yuki kept her suit on under the pants and jacket. She knew the insulating value was far higher than the new clothes, but she was not ready for the full force of Earth’s gravity yet. Plus, a small part of her didn’t want to take the suit off; she wasn’t ready yet, her crew was up there, and the suit was the last remaining link to them.
She jammed the rest of the clothes and her boots into the duffle bag. With the helmet in there, it was becoming difficult to carry.
She waited at the door while John paid the owner. She overheard him asking her if the weather still looked the same. She couldn’t hear what her response was, but John was shaking his head in a positive way, so she assumed her trip was still a go. He pocketed the change and made his way over to her, “Ready?”
They both headed for the truck.
“Yep. Um, Qbit gave me some money in case of an emergency. I don’t know if it’s enough to cover the clothes, but you can have it if you need it. I don’t want you to have to buy stuff that I should be paying for.”
“No worries, Qbit made sure I had enough, plus he’s taken care of everything; the boat rental, food, fuel, other transportation. It’s all covered.”
“Well, thank you. I mean, I don’t even know you and you don’t know me and I’m sure you have more important things that you could be doing.”
John put a hand on her shoulder, “Y’know what? I don’t. Qbit’s a good friend of mine and he asked me to make sure you got to where you needed to go. He’s put his trust in me and I don’t want to let him down.”
When they reached the truck, he paused at the door and said across the cab, “I wish we had more time. I’ve got a lot of questions.”
They both got in, Yuki asked, “Like what?”
“Does space smell? Do you drink your own pee? What happens when you cry in space?”
She chuckled, “Hmm, let me think, when you come in from the surface of the moon, your suit and stuff smells kinda like burnt metal. We do drink our own pee, but only after it’s been processed.” She put on a straight face and answered the last question, “And, I’m a highly trained astronaut, and highly trained astronauts don’t cry.”
He started up the truck and backed it out, “No crying? Oh man, I guess I could never be an astronaut then, because I cry all the time.”
“All the time?”
“Yep, at sad movies, weddings, funerals, clowns.”
“Clowns? They’re supposed to make you laugh!”
“I know, right?
Yuki shook her head, “You’re a hot mess, man.”