"Was that trader Jack's English?" Retro asked as they moved toward the door.
"None that you should say in front of the elders or parents."
They stepped outside into the storm and Retro was nearly blown off his feet. The wind roared all around them and carried bits of ice as well as rain. He clung to his sister and stood trembling at the furry of the storm. When he dared to open his eyes the trees around the round house were dancing. Retro shuddered; massive, thousand year old conifers bent and twisted like grass. They creaked and moaned in protest. The male flattened his antennas into his hair to drown out the noise.
Retro looked up at Booster to see why they had stopped walking and saw her face twisted in horror. He followed her gaze to the glass-grow and cried out. A giant coniferous tree had fallen across it horizontally. Booster started to run and Retro followed her. They tried to get in through the door but branches as big around as a human blocked the way. They finally clambered in through a shattered plexicreet wall. Retro gasped. The delicate white Mothers' Feast were destroyed. One branch had driven right through their hydroponics system. The smoke feeders were belching weakly through a thousand punctures. Booster was frantically trying to salvage what she could when a branch snapped and fell on Retro.
He tried to scream, but it pinned him to the floor and stopped his breath. Then with a wrench it was gone. He lay looking at his sister in amazement. He knew she was strong but that branch had to weigh several hundred neals. Her talons flashed in the light from the dying hydroponics as she picked him up and leapt out of the building. She didn't put him down until they were back in the house. Then she laid him down on the table while crying out for the matriarch. Fuzzy figures moved around his vision until the pain and everything else faded into darkness.
"No! We won't go begging to the southern colonies for help. Besides we need our own source.."
"But where? No other plant has high enough protein content, and you know the synthesizers can't get any where near the nutrient balance."
"Child, more than anyone I know the issues here. Have I not cared for three generations now? The birthing mothers most have the rich supplements supplied by the Mothers' Feast. But it simply won't grow here. This accident has only ended sooner what was a dying hope any way." The matriarch's voice was firm.
"Yes, so we need a source. Trading with the Southern…"
"Hush he's waking up."
Retro slowly opened his eyes and focused on the matriarch. She smiled and bent over him.
"How are you feeling softling?"
"Thirsty," he croaked. Booster moved to get him some water and he looked worriedly at his grandmother.
"Grand? How will we feed the mothers now? The storm ruined our last Mothers' Feast."
"We will find a way little one. You simply rest for now. Booster is going into the post to phone your parents at the University. They will send up a emergency supply of Mothers Feast for now. But how do your ribs feel? I…Stay down you." Retro was trying to struggle up.
"I need to go with Booster to the post! I am her Helper." His grandmother pushed him back down.
"And a good Helper you are. She will be fine on her own though. You need to rest and heal." Retro sighed and slumped back down onto the bed. He shot a pleading look at Booster when she brought him his water, but she only shook her head. It looked like he would be missing out on this trip.
But the storm kicked up again before she could leave. For five more days the wind roared through the trees. On the sixth day it died down although the sky was still ominously overcast. The matriarch declared Retro fit to accompany his sister and they set off on foot. The Elders and the workers were busy clearing the road of debris and repairing the damage to the round house.
The post was humming when they arrived. Retro spotted five of the six sentient species living on Centra in the crowd. While they were waiting for their chance to use the com Booster looked for Trader Jack to place their orders for the goods they would need. They finally found him in some sturdy new sheds behind the post. As soon as Retro walked in the door, a delightful smell flowed into his nose. Jack crouched under a midsized tan animal. The creature raised her head at their entrance and let out an inexpressibly beautiful sound. Retro glanced at Booster, she too was entranced by the creature.
Jack finally finished what he was doing and stood up holding a bucket filled with a pearly white liquid. Three of the post cats curled frantically around his ankles. He dumped it in a cooler but not before Retro recognized it as the source of the delicious smell.
"So, you two like the Nubies?" Trader Jack smiled at them.
"Is that their name?" Booster moved forward to stroke one of the animals.
"Sorta, they're goats of the Nubian breed. Produce a lot 'o milk with only a little feed and care. Plus they're the best suited for this climate of all our Earth critters." Jack said it casually but it was well known that the human's stock thrived far better on Centra than animals from any other world.
"Milk?" asked Retro.
"You saw what I poured into the cooler; easy to digest protein rich liquid. And they can be easily genetically tailored to fit any species' needs."
Booster and Retro stared at each other over the tan back of this miracle animal. This was an answer to prayer, almost too good to be true.
"How much would it cost to have a pack designed for us?" Booster asked.
"Well it would be called a herd, not a pack, but let me look in the registry." Jack quoted a price a fraction of what they spent each ten-day keeping the Mothers' Feast alive. Retro saw the gears turning in his sister's head. As they reluctantly left the warm barn her antenna curled firmly down and he knew she'd come to a decision.
"Retro, stay here with Trader Jack and take care of the com call and the rest of our purchasing. I am going to speed home." Retro nodded thrilled that he would be the one to use the com. He really must be turning into a competent Helper if she left the shopping up to him. Still, he was a little nervous as he moved among the crowd. He silently thanked heaven his people were the tallest of the seven species. It made it pretty hard to be intimidated by someone who only came up to your waist.