The Cinnamon Bears
The Red Fox thinks that his problems are over when he accepts a job cooking for the four Cinnammon Bears and flies off with them in their spaceship, The Bearscout. But life is never that simple with the bears. Django, bored with a long spaceflight, would rather be fishing or working on his piano playing. Grandma has some peculiar notions regarding explosives, Rollo is worried about the bank account, and Skylark has special issues to deal with because he's a grizzly. And when the bears go into hibernation, the Red Fox has to deal with a notorious pirate, the Cyber-Wolf, a group of difficult pigs, and a genetically perfect parrot. And that's only the beginning of the Red Fox's adventures as he finds that being a good cook often has as many difficulties as it has rewards.
Chapter 1"The King wants to see the Assistant Chef in the dining hall."
The Red Fox looked up in surprise at the herald. It was unusual to see the King's herald in the kitchen.
"Why does the King want to see me?" he asked. He was, after all, only the assistant chef to King Epsilon the Fourth of Ilium, King of the Seven Planets, and Lord of the Inner Galaxy. The Chief Chef normally came first in matters of precedence.
"The guests of honor wanted to meet the cook who made the basil ravioli," the herald replied. "That's you, isn't it?"
"Yes," the Red Fox answered. He could see the Chief Chef scowling off to one side. These sorts of scenes were occurring more and more often now, as the Red Fox's dishes were praised and the Chief Chef's were not.
"And which guests of honor are these?" the Red Fox asked. There were banquets like these most nights, so it was hard to keep track.
"The Cinnamon Bears," said the herald. "They're four bears from some planet on the far side of the galaxy, and they've been selling some rare cinnamon to all of the grain merchants. You'd better hurry; you know how the king gets impatient."
"I'll be right out," the Red Fox replied. He wiped the bits of shaved chocolate off his paws and proceeded from the kitchen, down the blue corridor, and out into the dining hall. There were actually about a dozen different dining halls in the summer palace of King Epsilon, but this was the largest and most sumptuous, the one used for state dinners, banquets, ceremonies, and other high, and not so high, occasions. Several hundred yards long, with high vaulted ceilings, adorned with murals of King Epsilon's ancestors, the hall could easily hold several hundred dinner guests, as it did tonight.
The Red Fox looked around. There was the King over at the head table. There were two brown bears standing near him. Around the room, as the remains of dinner were being cleared away, the guests were rising, drinks in hand, and mingling about. The Red Fox sighed. It was nice to be complimented on his meals, but the Red Fox never felt very comfortable around the king.
"Ah, my assistant chef," the King boomed out as the Red Fox approached him and the two bears.
"Your majesty," the Red Fox murmured, bowing briefly.
"Two of my guests tonight, two of the Cinnamon Bears, wanted to meet you." The King was in a good mood. "This is Django, of the planet Caithness and..."
"Django's grandma." the other bear said. "The name's Lavinia, but you can call me Grandma."
The Red Fox smiled, momentarily forgetting that he was in the royal presence. These clearly weren't the usual sorts of guests that visited King Epsilon.
"Tell me about your basil ravioli recipe," Grandma said, taking the Red Fox's arm and steering him away from the King and Django.
The Red Fox began explaining how he made the ravioli and wondered if Grandma bear was going to remember all of this, since she wasn't writing it down.
"Look, I want to talk to you," she said, once they were clearly out of earshot of the King. "Do you like your job?"
The Red Fox looked at the bear in surprise. What kind of question was that to ask a total stranger? Maybe she was some kind of informer for the secret police, testing the loyalty of the king's servants.
The bear smiled and looked at him. "I don't mean to be rude," she said. "But my companions and I liked the basil ravioli very much.
The Red Fox sighed. She had the look of someone who appreciated basil ravioli, and just about anything else she ate. He looked around. Although they were standing in a crowd, there was no one listening.
"No, as a matter of fact, I don't like my job. Why?"
"How would you like to work for the Cinnamon Bears?"
"You're offering me a job?"
"That's right. Of course, you'd have to leave the planet Ilium. We're from Caithness, on the other side of the galaxy."
The Red Fox stood open-mouthed for a moment, utterly speechless.
"Of course, if there are other considerations..." the bear began apologetically. "Maybe you have family or friends here and wouldn't want to leave..."
"No." The Red Fox's parents lived on the planet Mercia and he didn't have any particularly close friends here on Ilium. "But why do you want me?" he asked.
Grandma waved a paw in the general direction of the sky. "We've been traveling for nearly a year now. Django wanted to see the galaxy, so he and his friends Rollo and Skylark saved up some money to buy a spaceship. They didn't quite have enough, so I paid for the rest of it on the condition that I could come. It's been a long time since I've been out and about around the galaxy. Anyway, we've been traveling around, planet to planet, selling rare Caithness cinnamon as we go, and calling ourselves the Cinnamon Bears. A catchy name always helps business, you know."
The Red Fox nodded silently. He wasn't quite sure where this was leading.
"The thing is," Grandma continued, "Traveling around the galaxy isn't all banquets with the King all the time. Generally, we have to cook for ourselves. Now Skylark is fairly good in the kitchen, or would be if he didn't always burn everything. Django thinks he's a great cook, but he's hopeless, really. And Rollo just heats things out of cans. So, guess who's done most of the cooking on this trip?"
"That's right," she continued, before the Red Fox could reply. "And I'm sick to death of it. I'd much rather have you do the cooking. What do you say?"
"I don't know quite what to say. Have you talked to the others about this?"
"I saw the way they ate their ravioli. Trust me; there won't be any problems. And I'll take care of the money side of it. Would fifty-five credits a year be all right?"
The Red Fox felt his paws grow sweaty. Fifty-five credits a year was more than twice his salary working for King Epsilon.
"But I thought you only wanted me to work a couple of months on the spaceship, not a whole year."
"Once we get back home, you can cook for us on the planet Caithness. You'll like it. There are plenty of foxes and you'll make lots of friends. And if you get bored with that, you can always start your own restaurant or chef's school. And if you get bored with that, you can always leave to find a job on some other planet."
The Red Fox was used to making quick decisions in the kitchen, but was unused to it outside the kitchen. Still, he only hesitated a moment.
"I'll do it," he said weakly.
Grandma smiled. "Good. We're taking off first thing tomorrow morning. Do you have much to pack? We have to get it all on the spaceship tonight."
"That won't be any problem." The Red Fox could fit all of his belongings into one or two suitcases. He looked around. Everything looked the same as it had a few minutes earlier, but the Red Fox felt as if the world had changed beyond recognition. He was leaving the court of King Epsilon to fly around in a spaceship full of bears. How would the King take his decision to quit? The Red Fox imagined walking up to the King and telling him right then. The King might smile and laugh as if it were a joke. On the other hand, he might order his guards to seize the Red Fox and torture him to death. The King's whims were sometimes hard to predict.
"I think I'll stay with you for the rest of the party," he said to Grandma. "It'll probably be easier that way. I can pack my things in ten minutes and be ready to leave for your ship."
"You're not going to tell anyone you're leaving?" Grandma looked at him curiously.
"I think I might be safer if they found my resignation letter in the morning," the Red Fox replied.
"You can't be too careful with kings," Grandma remarked. "Come, why don't we mingle with some of the other guests. We can pretend as if you're showing me around."
The Red Fox started to tell her that as the assistant chef, he had no social standing whatsoever and virtually never met important guests, but then thought better of it and silently followed her. After this evening, he would never have to deal with the court of King Epsilon the Fourth of Ilium, King of the Seven Planets, and Lord of the Inner Galaxy.
They joined a crowd of banquet guests centered around the noble pig, Rudin Smoke, the celebrated galactic hero and most famous member of the Explorer's Club. They went up to one of the Cinnamon Bears, and a polar bear, and apparently one of the Red Fox's new companions.
"Rollo, meet the Red Fox. He's in," Grandma whispered to Rollo.
"Glad to have you," Rollo whispered as he shook the Red' Fox's paw. "Why are we whispering?"
"I don't want to announce the fact that I'm leaving, just yet," the Red Fox replied.
"Ahhh. Wise," Rollo murmured. They turned back with the others, just as Grandma walked up and introduced herself to Rudin Smoke.
"How do you do?" the pig said grandly. 'I must admit, I was most astonished to hear that you're from a planet that I've never heard of."
"Caithness is on the far side of the galaxy," Grandma answered politely.
"I've spent a lifetime exploring the galaxy," the pig replied, with dignity.
There seemed to be no answer to this, so Grandma just smiled politely. The Red Fox studied Rudin Smoke's appearance. He had never seen the famous pig this close before. Rudin Smoke was larger than the average pig, and his snout did have a certain military air.
"There are many small, no doubt worthy, planets which have yet to distinguish themselves in galactic affairs," the pig continued. "I was just telling the guests here about my most recent expedition, searching for clues to the existence of the fabled planet Samarkand..."
Grandma, Rollo, and the Red Fox listened politely while the noble pig described his quest for the legendary planet. The Red Fox was so excited that he could hardly stand still, but he forced himself. Standing with party guests in the King's dining hall was unusual enough. Knowing that he would be leaving the planet forever in just a few hours was even stranger. He looked around anxiously, wondering if any of the guests were looking at him, but most seemed to have eyes only for the pig, Rudin Smoke.
Someone in the gathered crowd asked the noble pig about his most recent encounter with the Cyber-Wolf. The Red Fox started keeping track of the time. The noble pig went into a long tale about his previous encounters with the Cyber-Wolf. The Red Fox looked at the clock again. Twenty minutes had gone by. Rudin Smoke began describing the general state of galactic affairs at the time just previous to his latest encounter with the Cyber-Wolf. Another fifteen minutes passed before the pig began relating the actual adventure. This time, the Red Fox, Grandma, and Rollo looked at each other, looked at the clock, nodded, and withdrew from the circle of admirers around the pig.
"But wait," Rudin Smoke cried out. "I haven't heard about your adventures yet."
"Perhaps later tonight," Grandma smiled.
'Yes, of course," the pig replied. "Anyway, there I was, trapped with my rocket pack when..."
A string orchestra was playing now and some of the guests were dancing. Grandma, Rollo, and the Red Fox made there way over to a corner where the other two Cinnamon Bears were standing off by themselves.
"Django, Skylark, meet the Red Fox. He's in," Grandma whispered.
"Why are we whispering?" Django asked as he shook the Red Fox's paw.
"I don't want to announce the fact that I'm leaving, just yet," the Red Fox replied.
"Prudent," Django beamed.
Skylark was a grizzly bear, and was so large that he had to bend over to shake the Red Fox's paw.
"Are you going to make more basil ravioli?" he asked.
"Tomorrow, if you want it," the Red Fox answered.
Grandma nudged them before they could discuss the basil ravioli any more, as a number of party guests were now beginning to gather around them, including the King himself.
"I see that my assistant chef is taking a hand at entertaining the guests of honor," he called out all smiles.
"Just doing my bit, sire," the Red Fox answered, giving a nervous little half bow.
He was spared any further pleasantries with the monarch though when some of the guests began asking the bears about their home planet of Caithness.
Django, Grandma, and Rollo answered enthusiastically. Skylark just shuffled a bit and stared at this feet.
First, the bears told about the planet itself, its six moons and five rings. They spoke of its jungles and forests, its floating islands and mermaids, the annual parliament of whales under the west pole, and the buffalo dancing in the corn fields. Django told how, inspired by various books he had read as a young cub, he had talked his friends, (and Grandmother) into buying a spaceship, and how they had set out on their voyage of exploration and cinnamon sales across the galaxy, now in its second year. (He didn't mention anything about Grandma paying for most of the ship.)
They spoke of their various adventures: the time Rollo had almost steered them into a black hole, their sinister encounter with the Blue Bears of Arcturus, the heartbreaking story of Django and the princess of Saranap, and the reason why there are no rabbits in the entire Syrius system.
There were more questions. How high were the taxes on Caithness? What were the prospects for a real estate boom? How did they handle health insurance?
On the other side of the hall, the noble pig Rudin Smoke and several pigs from his crew were relating their own adventures to whoever would listen. From time to time, they glanced at the bears and their listeners. Nonetheless, they maintained their own circle of admirers. Rudin Smoke was not a pig to be easily upstaged.
The night drew on. The string orchestra eventually quit, but Django, who had not gotten a chance to dance, was still in a festive mood. Noticing a grand piano off to one side, he began playing and led some of the guests in a twenty minute sing-along of "songs the way we sing them back on Caithness."
"I never would have thought you could get 'sublime' and 'can-opener' to rhyme like that," the King said in astonishment after the last song.
The clock had chimed several times since midnight when Django began murmuring that since the Cinnamon Bears were going to leave the next morning, they had best be on their way. Good-byes, were begun, interrupted, completed, and repeated several minutes later. A taxi was called to take the bears to their spaceship, and there were several last minute questions about the planet Caithness.
As Django herded them towards the door, the Red Fox, who had stayed quietly in the background for the last few hours, whispered that he had to pack his things in his room.
"Right," said Django. "Skylark will go with you, just to make sure there aren't any awkward moments.
"And where might you two be going?" the King asked as the Red Fox and Skylark headed off away from the other three bears.
"I'm giving Skylark a tour of the royal kitchens, your majesty. He's going to get some recipes and then join the other bears a little later."
The king looked as if he were going to ask an awkward question, but Skylark let out something halfway between a burp and a growl, and the King apparently thought better of it.
Skylark followed the Red Fox down a corridor and then to the right and up a staircase.
"Aren't we going to the kitchen?"
"That was just a story for the King. I'm not going back to have the Chief Chef yell at me for staying at the banquet, and then have to spend the rest of the night washing dishes."
"Oh," Skylark replied, with a poignant look back at the kitchen door as they hurried up the stairs.
Soon, the Red Fox and Skylark were in the fox's room on the second floor of the east wing of the imperial palace. There, the Red Fox hurriedly put all of his belongings into two large suitcases. It was all that he had brought with him when he had arrived from his home planet of Mercia two years ago. He hadn't picked up much in the way of belongings since then.
He also wrote a quick note, explaining that he was resigning and leaving with the bears. He laid it on the desk, knowing that when the Chief Chef sent the guards to his room the next morning for failing to show up for work on time, they would find it there. Neither the Chief Chef nor the King would be very amused.
He then called a taxi cab, which met them a few minutes later outside the servants' entrance at the back of the palace. The Red Fox was more relieved than he cared to admit that they hadn't been challenged by the King, his guards, the Chief Chef, or anyone else.
Fifteen minutes later, the Red Fox found himself stepping out of the taxi at the Ilium spaceport, right on the runway, next to the bears' ship.
The Red Fox gazed at it in wonder. It was saucer-shaped, with windows all around, the height of a four story building, and just a little smaller than a city block. The Bearscout was painted in bold red letters not far from its top.
"Beautiful, huh?" Skylark grunted. "Rollo's quite proud of it. He re-wired the whole thing, once Grandma bought it."
Skylark paid the taxi driver, and they walked to a door at the bottom of the ship. He slid a small panel open and pushed a couple of keys on a small keyboard.
"Computer lock," he explained. The door slid open, revealing a short hallway. The doors at the other end were open.
The Red Fox followed Skylark in through the hallway. Once inside, it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the light. He looked around in wonder. The first thing he noticed was the oak tree. He blinked. He had never heard of a spaceship with an oak tree before. Next to the tree was a small pond. A waterfall cascaded from an upper deck into the pond. The Red Fox looked up. He would soon discover that the tree had its roots in the fourth deck, where he now stood, and that its leaves reached to the ceiling of the first deck.
The next thing he noticed was the smell of wood and green growing things and flowers. And there was the sound of the water and of birds flying about somewhere high up in the trees branches.
Grandma and Rollo came up to greet him.
"I'm glad you're here," said Rollo. "The King's guards didn't trouble you?"
"No," the Red Fox replied. He was still somewhat surprised by the day's events.
"Let me show you around the ship," Rollo continued. We'll put you in a room in one of the caves on the second deck after we've taken off.
The Red Fox followed Rollo through the ship. He could see that the oak tree rose through a round circular opening in the center of each deck. There was a ladder connecting the different decks of the ship, as well as a freight elevator along one wall. The waterfall fell from a fountain on the third deck down to the pond on the fourth deck.
They climbed the ladder to the third deck. Next to a large grassy area with a small vegetable garden alongside it, was a long wooden table with chairs around it. The Red Fox looked around for a moment and then they continued their climb. The second deck consisted of a series of dark cave-like rooms, where the bears had their bedrooms. The Red Fox looked for just a moment and then continued up the ladder to the first deck. The first deck had computer consoles along the wall. He sat down, intending to rest for a moment and then ask Rollo some questions. It had been a long day, and he had a long of questions.
Grandma was sitting at a computer console listening to a radio headset. "The air traffic control just gave us permission to take off."
"Then let's be off," Django replied cheerfully from where he was sitting. He turned and began pushing buttons on his computer console.
The Red Fox decided that this wouldn't be a good time to start asking questions.
Outside, the sky was turning an orange pink on the horizon. Dawn came early at this time of year. At first the Red Fox didn't notice anything, until he was aware that the city lights of Ilium were moving away from them. The Bearscout was rising into the morning sky, and he didn't even feel a thing. He rose from his chair and stared at the city of Ilium sprawling out beneath him. He could see the palace, and the freeways, the stadium, the shopping district, and a host of other details. But soon these began fading as the ship rose higher and higher. Then there was a minute or so of darkness as the ship rose through clouds and then the Red Fox could see the stars outside the window. He caught a brief glimpse of the planet, its night side covered with clouds beneath them, but after a moment, even that was gone. They were in space.
Grandma got up from her console and came and sat down in a chair next to the Red Fox. Django was still apparently flying the ship from where he was seated.
"It's been a long day, but I'm glad we met you," she said. "Right now I'm so tired I could hibernate."
"Yes, we're bears, remember? Even though we're flying around in this spaceship, our bodies are still used to the season back on the planet Caithness. And back there, there's snow on the ground for several months, and the bears hibernate for six to eight weeks."
"So you still need to hibernate?"
"That's right. Some space traveling bears have tried not to hibernate, but it just doesn't work. In about two months, there will be snow on the ground back home, and a few weeks after than we're all going to take a very long nap."
"Then who flies the ship?" the Red Fox asked.
"No one. Last winter we stayed on the planet Carthage, and we all checked into a hotel and slept the six weeks there. It was expensive, but we didn't have much choice. But Django and I were talking just a minute ago, and he was wondering if we could save time and money by leaving the ship on auto-pilot and letting you look after things."
The Red Fox felt a stab of panic.
"Me! I don't know how to fly a spaceship.