What Lies Beyond: Chapter 9

Still groggy, Pack splashed water on his face and rubbed it with his paws. Last morning had been too close, he needed to be more careful. He looked at himself in the mirror disdainfully, his whiskers were all drooped and water was still dripping off his face. He dried himself off with a towel and pulled out a small comb, and set to work on making himself presentable.

After quite some time he was finally satisfied, and he strode to the door of his cabin confidently. “Boo!” a scraggly, brown-furred, upside-down face said to him as he opened the door. The face bore wide, happy eyes, one green and one blue, and an even wider grin. Pack's demeanor remained unchanged, but the faintest trace of a smile appeared across his lips.
I didn't hear you arrive”, he said to the face.
She dropped down from the railing above his cabin and landed neatly on her feet. Despite her shaggy appearance, he was always impressed by how graceful she was. “Silly, I've come and gone and come again while you've been in there.” She put her paws on his face and messed his fur around. “There!” she said happily. “Now we match!”
He laughed and smoothed down his fur with one paw, but he knew he must look awful. “We could also match if you would let me groom that fur of yours.”
You'd never win”, she said, hopping about, “my fur has a mind of its own, no one can tell it what to do.” She grabbed his arm and pulled at him. “The fur wants to go, come on!” She giggled happily as she dragged him along.

Pack had to step quickly to keep up with her as she skipped up the steps to the bow. She let go of his arm, hopped up on the railing, and nimbly turned around in place. She craned her neck backwards: “All the stars are out tonight.”
Pack looked up, nonplussed. “They're out most nights.”
Not like this”, she said, shaking her head. “The moment I saw them, I wanted to show you.” She looked down at him. “Look carefully, maybe you'll see it.”
See what?” he asked, scanning the skies.
There's a secret message for you in the stars tonight”, she whispered, leaning towards him. “They need to tell you something important.”
Pack sighed knowingly and looked down at her. Her fur was a mess of tangles and knots, all the way from the brown fur on her face to the nearly black fur on her feet. Yet there was something striking about her, perched on the ship's railing, blanketed by the light of the stars. He smiled warmly at her: “I don't need the stars to tell me silly things, I have you.”
You can thank the stars for that too, they tell me how to find you. I just tell the stars that I want to be with you, and then I follow the dullest, plainest one.” She giggled. “That one's my favourite. It might not be bright and shiny, but it's warm, and it always listens to me.”
He noticed she was looking right at him, but he couldn't think of anything to say, he just looked right back into those odd-coloured eyes. She closed her eyes and smiled. “Do you think the stars are lonely? All the way out there on their own?.”
Well, if they have you to talk to them, I don't think they'll ever get bored.”
She smiled widely at him and jumped down off the railing, straight towards him, he put his arms out to catch her, but she was leaning too far forward, and they toppled over. He landed flat on his back, his arms around her as she lay on top of him.

Pack groaned and opened his eyes. She was staring right at him, arms folded across his chest, her nose almost pressed against his. “You look like a Nathan”, she said, tilting her head. “or maybe a Walter.”
A what?” Pack asked her, more confused than usual.
Strangers I've met.” she replied, her odd-coloured eyes staring right into him. “I've been trying to find someone like you over there.”
Why would you do that?”
Because maybe some day I'll find you over there and you'll say 'surprise, it's me!', and then I can show you all sorts of great things...” She put her paws at the side of his head and buried her face in his chest.
He sighed. “We need to get up.”
Why?”, she asked sweetly, plying him with her big, round eyes. “I like it like this.”
Oh, all right”, he sighed, gently stroking her back with his paw. She purred softly and wrapped her arms around his neck. She mumbled something into his chest, but it was too muffled to hear. Pack's breathing slowed and his eyes began to droop. He couldn't have said how long they laid there together, but it felt like a long time.

Excuse me, sir,” said Quill, “but we need the day's schedule.”
She was on her feet instantly, but it took Pack longer to pick himself up. “Today's schedule is whatever you want it to be!” she said energetically.
Finally back on his feet, Pack looked up, and was shocked to see that the sun was already starting to come up. “I'll address the crew” he said, quickly, and Quill hurried off.

Everyone had gathered on the deck, in orderly fashion. Pack leaned over the railing Lapse had been hanging from earlier to speak to them. “There's not much time,” he said, “so we'll just focus on the essentials. Check the supplies, patch up any cracks in the hull, and prepare yourself for today's business as quickly as you can.”
And they have to hop on one foot!” said a poor imitation of Pack's voice.
There was a crash from somewhere towards the back of the audience. Pack turned around to face her, but she had already danced around him. She put her paws on his shoulders and giggled, “Also, I will be busy”, said the same artificially deep voice, “so everyone use their own judgment and don't bother me.” She squeezed him really tight and nuzzled the back of his neck.
Lapse”, he said, putting his paws on hers, “you have to go back. There isn't any time left.”

She sulked behind him as he lead her back to the plank to her own ship. The sun was high in the sky now.
It was good to see you” he said, hugging her. “We'll be together again soon, I promise.”
Lapse merely stared down at her feet. “Come with me!” she blurted out suddenly, with a strange look in her eyes. “There's so much I want to show you!”
She took his paws in hers, but he gently pulled them away, “I can't come with you, it's too dangerous. The mornings are work, not for play, we each have our own jobs to do.”
I just wanted to show you... something special” she said, backing away. “Are you... afraid to be with me?”
Of course not. It's just that-”
I thought someone liked me.” She drooped her head. Pack suddenly felt a terrible pain in his throat. “I'm always all alone...”
You know I do!” he said, quickly, but she and her ship were gone. “Lapse!” he yelled at the empty waters, but the sun was calling for him, too.


Lapse...” Pack opened his eyes, he was still sitting in the chair in his cabin. He stood up, and walked to the window, it was already early out. He had been away far too long, his crew would be lost without his guidance. Without even bothering to adjust his whiskers, he bolted out of his cabin and up the steps.

He stopped at the railing to observe the deck, and was shocked at what he saw: the members of his crew skirted to and fro, busying themselves with various tasks. The ship looked in good working order, and no one even seemed to notice him. “She was right”, he thought to himself. “They really can manage without me.”
Just then, Snag came up on deck, holding a bucket. It was dripping water behind him, but not too much. He noticed Pack, and walked over to him. “Do you have any new orders for me, sir?” he asked?
I have business to take care of in my cabin. Carry on, Snag.”
Yes sir”, he nodded, and walked off. Wordlessly, Pack watched him disappear below deck, then he turned and walked back into his cabin.

His notebook was still lying where he had tossed it the night before. He picked it up gently and tried to smooth out some of the crinkled pages, but the damage remained. He flipped to the last few pages of the book, and pulled out a quill. “Hop on one foot”, he added, then put the quill away. He sat down in his chair, turned back a few pages, and wept openly as he read over his memories of the time they spent together.

The sun was already out when he finished reading the book. “I hope Corsair and Sister will stay safe, and I hope Lapse is all right, and that I'll see her again someday”, he said aloud, holding the book against his chest. “Most of all”, he said under his breath, “wherever she is, I hope Lapse knows that someone does care for her.”


He was shaken from his reflection by a storm of footsteps, likely belonging to at least two dozen people or so. Looking about, he found himself at the back of a small group of smartly-attired men and women, all of whom were walking in the same direction down a narrow hallway. Most of them were carrying book bags or knapsacks, he noticed, and he found that he had one as well around his arm. He stepped quickly to keep up with them, but just as he did so, the group stopped abruptly and he bumped into the woman standing in front of him. “Sorry”, he muttered quietly, but he was interrupted by the man who appeared to be leading the group.

Just across from me is the campus bookstore” said the man at the front, gesturing to a door to his left. “You can find a list of required books for each course in your course calendar, and you should try to do your shopping well before classes start if you want to avoid long lines. Moving on...”
He turned around and continued walking down the hallway, and the pack shuffled after him. “This is all very exciting, but I don't see how I'm ever going to remember where everything is” said the woman Pack had bumped into earlier.
You'll get used to it”, he told her. “It all becomes routine quickly enough.” He was no stranger to college campuses, labyrinthine as they were the strangers rarely got lost unless it was time to take a test.
I'm Shelly, by the way, you've already met my back”, she said, turning to him, hand outstretched. He shook it. “I don't know anyone else here, I'm the only one who came here from my school.” They continued walking.
You must be looking forward to meeting new people” Pack offered, trying to be supportive.
Well...” she paused, looking down at her feet. “I don't know. I don't want to lose my old friends. I've known them for a long time; they're precious to me. What about you?”
Pack took a deep breath. “Actually, there is someone I know here, but he's not with the group, I've been trying to find him. You haven't seen Steven, have you?”

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