The Wanderers beamed aboard, and the captain introduced himself as Ray'an.
Hroljarus surprised them all again by greeting them in their own language.
"You are very skilled. How did you ever learn that?"
"Listening," replied Hroljarus. "Unfortunately, I don't know many Wanderer phrases."
"Forgive us, but we intend on keeping it that way. I'm sure you understand."
Hroljarus grinned. "Forgive me, but I intend on changing that," he answered. "I'm sure you understand."
Ray'an gave him a strange, knowing look. "More than you know." He refused to explain himself. He shook his head with amusement at Hroljarus's skill in throwing one's own words back in one's teeth.
They went to the HoloSim, and Hroljarus ran a tavern sequence.
Aponaphelma and another Wanderer were eying each other, clearly itching for a fight. Hroljarus glanced at Ray'an, who nodded. "What stakes?" the Wanderer asked.
"Whoever loses gets the worst thrashing?" suggested Hroljarus.
Ray'an laughed. "No. You are here for a purpose, and if your wolverine wins, we will tell you something that will help you. If not, you're on your own. Acceptable?"
"Acceptable and accepted," came the reply, and the crews set about clearing a space.
The two fighters introduced themselves, and the Wanderer introduced himself as Adran.
"Let the fight commence!" barked Ray'an.
Aponaphelma had the size and weight advantage, but Adran was quicker. It was clear that neither were holding back, both going at it tooth and claw, literally.
"Almost looks like a fight to the death," murmured Hroljarus.
"Yes. That wolverine somehow... impresses me, almost. I don't impress easily."
By this time, both combatants were bleeding heavily.
Aponaphelma trapped Adran face-down beneath his knees, grabbed the Wanderer by his headfur, and began to bash Adran's head into the floor.
Adran snarled in pain, and struggled desperately to break free. Suddenly, he bucked, throwing Aponaphelma off balance. He seized the wolverine's arm between his teeth and twisted, pulling Aponaphelma off of him.
Aponaphelma roared with pain. He found himself flat on his back, pinned beneath Adran. The Wanderer began punching him in the face, and Aponaphelma struggled against the blackness the loomed over him.
Adran stood up, and stomped in Aponaphelma's face. The Wanderer turned to face the two captains, but whirled around at a sound. Aponaphelma was using a chair to struggle to his feet. Once he was standing, he slowly advanced on Adran.
Adran gave a bow of respect, then tackled the wolverine. But Aponaphelma rolled back, and pinned Adran in the most painful hold he knew. He squeezed tighter and tighter until Adran was screaming in pain.
"I can't hear you," Aponaphelma growled, and jerked, causing the Wanderer's scream to peak.
"Enough!" shouted Ray'an. "Congratulations, wolverine. I don't impress well, but I am impressed now." He and another Wanderer helped Aponaphelma to a chair, then did the same for Adran. Adran gave Aponaphelma a nod, his eyes filled with respect.
Ray'an turned to Hroljarus and smiled. "What can I do for you?" he asked.
A half-hour later, Ray'an was still talking to Hroljarus. "I fear the lynx is right. When we spoke to him, he seemed... not quite himself." Hroljarus showed him the route that the missing captain was supposed to take. "Yes. We met him here." Ray'an pointed to a spot that was a good distance from the route.
"What impression did you get when you spoke to him?" asked Hroljarus.
"That of one living in a Utopia."
"I wonder what kind of Utopia that would have been?"
"I truly do not know." Ray'an and the other Wanderers rose to leave. "Oh, and one last thing. The other Wanderers say he is travelling in a circle. If you are not impatient, you can simply go where we met him, and wait."
The Wanderers beamed back aboard their own ship.
"How are you, Aponaphelma?" asked Hroljarus.
"In a great deal of pain." He smiled darkly, his lips almost in a snarl. "I have never enjoyed a fight like I enjoyed that one. Never."
"C'mon, lets get you to the Infirmary."
Hrala looked at the bleeding mess that walked into the Infirmary. "What did you manage to do to yourself this time, Aponaphelma?"
"Minor scuffle," he mumbled. The wolf looked at him sceptically, and began applying her medicines. Hrala was perhaps the only medical officer who knew the traditional ways of healing. She had always preferred them to the more advanced treatments. That preference had landed her in this "crew of losers," as she heard one Admiral describe them.
"Minor scuffle?" she asked in a slightly dangerous tone of voice.
"Hey, if you think I look bad, you should see the other guy," Arctos laughed.
"I'm sure." She sighed, and finished bandaging his arm.
After she was done, Aponaphelma went back to his quarters to rest. Hrala leaned back, resting. Hroljarus showed up at the Infirmary, and got down an icepack for her. She smiled. "Hello, sweetheart," she smiled.
"Hi, hon." He sat down, and held her hand. They looked into each others eyes. Twelve years ago, she had thought him too old for her. Now, it didn't matter.
Hroljarus grinned. "I got a transmission from Syral."
"What did it say?" she wanted to know.
"He's taken on a personal assistant."
"Lieutenant Orrin jumped at the chance."
"Orrin? Is that the one who tried to break us up?"
Hroljarus nodded. Hrala began to laugh, and Hroljarus followed suit.
Unknown to them, Alran Sharl was watching them.
I really hope they get married, thought the old opossum.
It's the least fate can do for them.