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There had been a number of events in his life which Zazu Torque felt unprepared for when they happened. …Pretty much everything that didn't involve just him and an engine, in fact. No one planned to get called into active service with the fleet at fifteen years old - a couple of centuries ago perhaps, at the very height of the war, but not since. Even then, the age of conscription had been eighteen for most people.

But Zazu had been pulled onto the NSX at the end of his single accelerated course of study at fleet academy, and he'd been winging it ever since.

The way his luck was running today, he certainly wasn't going to make it back to get a second degree.

The NSX was a deep-space exploration vessel, though in this case 'explore given sector of space' had been ditched in favour of 'try to find mythical homeland of the Captain's mysterious husband', assuming Lantis was really from Cephiro and not either making it up (best sabotage of a fleet ship on record) or suffering from a very strange and extended psychosis. Why Eagle had decided to take Lantis's claims to command in the first place, Zazu had no idea - sure, Lantis had managed to grow the only reliable garden outside of the agro-domes, but how was finding his homeland meant to help theirs? And if they knew where it was, wouldn't Eagle have to tell Lantis he could take him back? Personally, Zazu would have just let him stay handsome and mysterious and enjoyed the garden. It wasn't like Lantis had asked them to come out here, so far as he knew.

Anyway, it was all moot, because they'd done it. Found a disturbingly green planet that - well, it mucked the sensors right up, they hadn't even seen it until they were right on top of it and they hadn't got close until the Captain had taken the helm himself. Given it was definitely a strange planet of very strange readings, and that half the fairy-tales were right it was also wildly dangerous, Eagle had immediately tried to land a landing party, only for Geo to argue him down to a few suitable scouting craft, which at least had decent shields and visual camouflage.

…Zazu had spent the entire argument (two hours, this was why the crew bought Geo a holiday every year) staring out of the view ports. He'd been a lot of places, the past three and a half years, but this…

So he'd got himself assigned one of the scouts when no one was looking.

Only the little scout-ships - or at least his - seemed positively allergic to something in the atmosphere. He'd heard the others yelling about failing controls and systems acting bizarrely before his comm system cut out - and he'd only got down in one piece because he'd yelled at the controls until he got the manual glider wings extended, and brought her down by hand. Which hand been terrifying, and he hadn't quite missed all the trees, so now he was sat on a fallen tree (covered in growing - things! Spongy green and grey plants, and insects, and a couple of things that were flowers) looking at the sorry state of a slightly wrecked scout craft with only one wing and half the tail left attached.

"Well, we're as far from any habitation as it's possible to get, if the scans were right," he announced to the poor thing. He couldn't decide if it was a good or bad that he'd come down in a hole in the middle of a real actual living forest. On the one hand, no non-space-faring locals panicking and executing him as a very incompetent alien invader. On the other hand… he had no idea what he was going to do about food and drink when his one-day supply ran out.

He knew for a fact it would take longer than that for a rescue, because he was the one who should have been up on the ship working out what went wrong and how to counter-act it. Only he was - not. None of his instruments were working - not even a scanner, let alone a comm - and the fact he could hear animals in the trees was a lot more unnerving than he'd ever imagined.

Still. He had most of a scout ship, his wits, and the toolbox he always shoved under the seat. If he couldn't work out how to at least get the comm running so he could get in touch with the NSX and talk them through modifying something larger, who ever would?


Three hours later, Zazu had come to a sad conclusion - it was very hard to do anything when every tool you had was refusing to turn on.

He should probably have expected it - all their tech ran on the same sources, it was just a lot smaller and battery-stored in the hand-tools, which did indicate that yes there was something interfering with their power - how, he didn't know, but it did mean his first step was going to be figuring an earthed shielding cage and see if that would get things up again. Only to do that, he figured the best material to use was some of the extraneous thin panelling on the control system, which was only really there to make things look tidy and stop tall people shoving their feet up into the wiring - it wouldn't stop him getting the scout up and running again further down the line.

Only disassembling a control panel by hand turned out to require a truly obscene amount of undoing teeny tiny little screws. And the sonic screwdriver was, of course, not working, so he was doing it all by hand, and his hand was protesting the endless twisting motions it wasn't used to. He'd almost managed to get the last couple of screws free when his hand slipped and he slammed the screwdriver against the thumb of his other hand where it was bracing the panel, scoring a cut across it. He dropped everything to stick his thumb in his mouth, swearing loudly around it - the digit muffled the words, but not the vehemence behind them.

He was fairly well buried under the console, with no view of the distractingly bright outside world, so he had no warning before the voice greeted him uncertainly from somewhere beyond the ship. "Um… hello?"

Zazu's head shot up fast enough he actually hit it on the console itself - which promptly ripped free of the last screws and the entire thing dropped on him. The only mercy was that he didn't bite down on his thumb in the shock of it; his swearing got more creative for a few moments. Then it actually hit him that someone was trying to talk to him, at which point he froze, going silent.

Technically, he'd been through first-contact training, but that was several years ago and he hadn't actually been allowed on any of that kind of mission since he started active service. As far as he remembered, the basic rules didn't really cover 'crashed spaceship, no back-up, no defensive capabilities', and his language had broken the cardinal rule - remain polite at all times - most every way he knew how.

Maybe, he thought, wildly, if I'm very quiet they'll go away?

It was absolutely panic talking and never going to happen, unlike the voice, which did, though it sounded even more hesitant this time.

"Are you… are you alright?"

"Yes, thanks, I'm fine," Zazu said, automatically, before realising two things. The first: people asking after your health probably weren't about to arrest you for crash-landing on their trees, and two: his translation unit should be fried like everything else, but he'd understood every word perfectly. Without even the usual translation-blur on the sounds, in fact.

Pushing the panel aside with a clatter, he scrambled upright and leaned over the side of the ship, staring around until he spotted the person half-hiding behind a tree, the greens and browns of his clothing melding into the background and nothing like the sharp lines of Zazu's flightsuit. "Hey!" Zazu said, staring. "How can I understand you? Can you understand me?" A better question occured to him, and he frowned. "How do we ever understand Lantis, come to that. It's not like he carries a translator everywhere. Does he? I'd have spotted that, wouldn't I?"

The person - who shifted a little further into view, and Zazu was going to go with 'young man' for now - blinked at him wordlessly, looking bewildered.

"…That bit was a rhetorical question, I guess. Um, hi, sorry, I'm Zazu, I had a bit of, Um. An accident?"

"…Did you crash?"

Zazu looked at the ship, busted wings and all, and then at around at the trail of smashed foliage behind him where he'd so nearly managed to make a moderately neat landing before he ran out of clear space. "Guess it's pretty obvious, huh?" He rubbed a hand over his head. "I - so, uh, what do people around here know about other planets?"

That was probably against the first-contact rules, too, but Zazu was meant to be spying in an invisible ship from a distance, not talking to people.

Then the man tilted his head. "What, the lands-beyond? We used to visit some of them, before things got too dangerous and the Pillar raised the Interference around Cephiro to protect us. That's what they taught us in first-school. I, um. I didn't really get beyond first-school, sorry, should I know more than that?"

"I- huh." Zazu blinked at him. "…So you're not going to panic and murder me for being from space?"

He got a stare back for that, brilliantly green eyes visible through a slightly ragged fringe of hair. "No?"

"Good to know!" Zazu grinned at him. "So, d'you have a name?"

A long moment of silence, then the smallest smile quirked the man's lips up. "I'm Ascot."

"It's good to meet you, Ascot."


That was how Zazu ended up following a strange man home, which Geo had always told him was a bad idea without extensive background checks, but Zazu didn't think this was quite what he meant. Apparently there were 'things in the forest at night which aren't… so friendly?' which was both vague and ominous enough Zazu was happy grabbing his toolbox and panel and following Ascot back to shelter, where there was also the promise of food. Shelter turned out to be a little wooden house, of all things, made of trees roughly cut to stack together, with a good solid door, more wood for the furniture, and - well, almost everything, except the chimney-stack, which was stone.

It was exactly like walking into one of the fairy-tales he'd been read as a kid, only it smelt so much better than he'd ever dreamed, and it was so reassuringly - solid. Zazu stopped just inside the doorway, unable to help himself, staring around; there was an actual fire in an actual fireplace and it had an actual cooking pot over it, something tasty-smelling slowly bubbling away.

All the furniture was large-ish, and scratched up - so was the floor, actually, the wooden boards marked with cross-crossed scoring, and he slowly realised that Ascot was very earnestly trying to tell him about the big piece of wood in the corner of the room that Zazu would need to use to bar the door when it got dark. "Unless you have a - a space-laser? Or something? I only know about aliens from stories when I was really small, sorry," Ascot said, and Zazu made a distant mental note to work on getting him to stop apologising so much, that couldn't be good for him. But there was something more important looming at the edge of his memory, from all those stories of impossible places with impossible people that the protagonist always met.

Zazu looked at Ascot sideways. "Why won't you be doing it?"

"I'll be - outside?"

Outside where the things were. "…It's your house, I can't throw you out of it!"

"I'll be fine! Outside. But you wouldn't be, so you should stay here. Sleep." Ascot wouldn't look at him.

Zazu tilted his head. "Look, sorry if this is rude, I don't know what the rules are when you drop in on a fairy-tale. But do you turn into an animal at night?" Ascot stared at him, eyes too-wide and face going pale, and Zazu raised his hands between them. "It's fine if you do! I just - this mug has claw marks in it? I wouldn't mind, anyway, if you wanted to stay inside to be something all claws-and-fur. Or feathers. Scales? Still your house!"

Ascot swallowed, and dropped into a chair. "It wouldn't be safe?" He whispered, voice scratchy and apparently even more bewildered by this entire encounter than Zazu. But then, they were apparently the figures from each other's childhood legends, which raised so many questions about the history of this place. "I'm not really… me, when I - that's why I live out here. Where I can't hurt anyone."

"Well, that's horrible for you to have to do," Zazu declared, and dropped down into one of the other seats - he suspected this one was more a practice piece than meant for a companion, it wobbled interestingly. "Anyway, I'm sure it would be fine. You haven't rampaged about and broken all your furniture, have you."


"Then I'm sure it'll be fine!"

"You aren't a piece of furniture? I will stay outside, and you will bar the door," Ascot said, a hint of diamond-strength stubbornness coming through.

Well, it was his house, so Ascot's rules it was. "Fine. I'll probably talk at you through the window, though, sorry about that. Not sure I'm going to sleep very much tonight, what with the whole - alien planet thing. Hey, if you're really strong in that form, do you think you'd be able to reshape this bit of metal?"


By the next morning, Zazu had foggy memories of conversing with a long-eared creature who was taller than he was, long-legged, made of claws and teeth and a long and surprisingly expressive tail - and a piece of metal that had been reshaped to the rough outline he'd drawn. He found Ascot curled against the side of the house, underneath the unshuttered window Zazu had been talking to him through, sound asleep.

Zazu went and got a blanket to drape over him, then got his tools out, sat in the morning sun, and got ready to experiment.