Buck Who? Chapter 10

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 10: Morning Impressions

April, 24rd  2668 About halfway between Bowyer Island and the Community

She was shivering from a combination of exhaustion, fright and the cold. The night had been long and full of terrors she could not even begin to imagine. Although just over twelve hours old the young female had already begun to learn what it takes to survive. Her small brain had begun to accumulate a database of sounds and smells which equated predators and danger. Danger always meant death, if she could not find a way to avoid it.

To ward off freezing to death as the temperatures plummeted, the cub was lucky enough to find a long-abandoned nest. It smelled old and of odors she could not yet identify, but it had a soft, if dirty, lining of fur, feathers and plants. She curled up in the den and stared out into the night, her eyes wide with fright.

Even if she had not been so terrified, the little cub would have found it all but impossible to sleep, due to the dull ache in her belly. As she grew, she would come to identity the ache with hunger. It clawed at her like her twin had at the lining of her dead mother’s belly, demanding to be quelled or satisfied.

It only intensified as the night grew longer. Over the darkest hours, she had watched as various creatures roamed the woods. Again, only age and time would give her the knowledge she needed to identify the myriad of creatures, but only if she lived long enough. Instinct though, helped her. She could tell just from the way the creatures looked or moved, and more importantly, how they smelled. It helped her identify which were to be dangerous to her, and those she could avoid, or more likely, who would avoid her.

After the sun had crested the sky and filled the forest with warmth and light, she remained in the old nest, trying to build up enough courage to continue. Then it hit her, not the thought but the concept. Where? Where would she go? She was all alone in the world without a mother or a sibling to help protect her.

A new emotion filled her mind, one so intense and powerful she nearly cried out, needing to release the loneliness and loss she felt. For that was what she felt - pure unadulterated loneliness and loss. Two emotions a newborn infant should never, ever have to face.

Once her body felt warm enough, she left the safety of the hidden nest and stood on her rear legs, sniffing the air and scanning the surroundings. There was a strange scent on the air, one which was not of death or fear, but something else. It reminded her of her mother, and she carefully began to walk towards the smell.

Her legs were still shaky and she felt unsure of her footing. Walking on two legs appeared to be at once perfectly natural, and yet she often wanted to drop to all fours. Looking down at her naked, pink legs, she realized walking on all fours would be difficult. The sensation and unformed thoughts confused her and filled her mind with images she could not yet understand.

As she walked, she continued to follow the scent. It was mixed in with numerous others, most of which remained a complete mystery to her. Yet, like the one she was following, the other had a distinct feminine trace.

Since her ordeal to escape her dead mother, and the carnage of the battlefield, it was the first time she had felt something other than fear. She knew if she could continue to follow the scent, maybe, just maybe, it would lead to safety.  

Then she heard it. Something was rustling the leaves and foliage nearby, moving stealthily. She froze, fear welling up. She wanted to run, but first she needed to locate where the sound was emanating from. The girl-cub slowly turned her head from side to side, straining to hear.

There!

To the right, although she could not judge distance. The entire concept of distance was alien to her. All she knew for certain was something was closing in, something that smelled of death. It was a scent she would eventually equate to a predator, however that would be far into the future.

Carefully she crept away from the origin of the sound, moving as quietly as her inexperience would allow. The girl-cub travelled ten, possibly twenty meters when the sound of chitters reached her delicate ears. There was the promise of terrible pain and death in the sound and if there had been anything in her bowels or bladder, she would have voided both.

Not knowing what to expect, she turned to the only choice she had. The girl-cub ran for her life.

***

April 24th, 2668. The Community

Ra’naa woke to find Otres still curled up against her body. His fur was amazingly soft and it retained the heat, so he felt hot to her touch. The little Uplift was still snoring away, making little squeaks and slight chitters with each inhalation of breath. She was amazed the noise had not woken her earlier. She he slept, she watched him for several seconds, a smile creasing her face. The little Otter was adorable, and as much as she did not want to admit it, he really did sound like a toy.

As carefully as she could, Ra’naa slipped off the bed into the cold room. The fire had long since died down to embers and she could see her breath. The chill air sent a shiver through her naked body, but she was used to it. Moving quietly, she stoked the fire and carefully fanned the flames. It only took a few minutes before the fire was blazing and crackling merrily. The cabin would warm up soon enough

Quietly, she tiptoed over to a large mirror, which had been purchased many years ago from a salvage company out of Vancouver. The edges of the mirror had imperfections and cracks, but that mattered not. One of the wood-workers in the community had built a nice frame, one which matched the rustic appearance of the cabin and her furnishing.

She stood in front of the mirror and carefully prodded the nasty bruises she had received less than twenty-four hours ago. The dark purple and yellow splotches marred her otherwise unblemished flesh and she did not like it. The worst was a huge bruise, the size of a dinner plate, which covered half of her left breast and curved around her torso, following the curvature of her ribs. It was very tender to the touch and she could not help but hiss in pain as she probed it.

Ra’naa knew her ribs had not been cracked or broken, but it still hurt. She thanked the gods above she had been wearing her armored jacket when the rounds struck home. Otherwise it would have been a killing blow.

When she looked down at her arm, the one the Purist had slashed open, there was no sign of the injury. The only evidence, a line of pale flesh, clearly visible on her darker complexion. She cocked her head to the side and ran her hands down the green and gold scales, which covered her breasts completely, except for the nipples. The scales continued in a line, down center of her torso, where they split off and ran down each leg, leaving her groin smooth flesh. The scales also ran down her spine and branched off, following her ribs, before ending in sharp points on either side.

Her long, spiked tailed was completely covered in the scales, and they glittered in the sunlight, shining through the window of her cabin. Ra’naa reached up and ran her fingers through her blond locks. Her hair was filthy, and felt like sandpaper. She was going to have to wash it, and soon. She returned her gaze to the mirror and studied her eyes, frowning.

It was getting more and more difficult with each passing year to remember what her mother looked like, but she knew she had inherited the woman’s looks and body. She could still see her face, although it was getting more and more difficult. The woman had deep, nearly black eyes and a small nose and mouth. The one aspect she remembered the most was how she was always smiling. Ra’naa touched her hair again, marveling how she ended up a blond. Her mother had hair as black as midnight, and her father was a light brown. Was it a possible mutation? She always wondered why genetics had changed her hair so it did not match either parent.

She ran her hands over her cheeks and chin, and then rubbed her nose with her thumb. It was so much like her mother’s she felt melancholy creeping into her emotions. The resemblance was uncanny. That much was obvious whenever she caught her father looking at her. She always pretended not to notice, but it broke her heart every time she saw the pain and loss in his face. He had loved her mother unlike anyone he had ever known over his very long life.

She had been a pure human, one whose ancestry was a mixture of Japanese and Chinese – back when such distinctions made a difference. Her mother had lived her entire life on the coastline, working with the Kyoshi-Wanchee salvage and scavenging crew. If it had never been for that fateful day her father and a group of scouts had stumbled upon their caravan. That day they had opened trade negotiations with the caravan leader, her mother’s dad, her grandfather.

Ra’naa had a hard time believing in concepts like love at first sight, but her father insisted it was exactly the case. He and her mother met and the chemistry was perfect. A year later, she married her father and ten months after that; Ra’naa was brought into the world.

Her birth brought great joy to her father. He had slept with many women over his years, including more than a few of the women inside the community. Never had his seed taken. It had something to do with his genetics, with him being an Exotic, although she still did not quite understand how it worked.

After more than four hundred years of life, Max Ahteen had sired a daughter.

The leader of the community could not have been happier.

She padded silently over to her table and picked up a large brush. Returning to the mirror, she went to work on her hair. It had become tangled overnight and it turned out to be quite the chore to straighten it. Ra’naa did not even realize she had started singing, but the words came out, quietly and melodically. “The last that she ever saw him, carried away by a moonlight shadow. He passed on, worried and warning, carried away by a moonlight shadow”

She stopped, realizing what she had done, and was afraid she had woken Otres. When she looked at the little Otter, he was still asleep. Smiling sadly, she continued to brush her long hair. “Lost in a riddle that Saturday night, far away on the other side. He was caught in the middle of a desperate fight, and she couldn’t find how to push through.”

Ra’naa continued to hum, as she finally untangled the last of her locks. The task accomplished, she checked to see that a basin of water was full and proceeded to clean her body. It was cold and gooseflesh prickled, but she figured she would treat herself to a long, hot soaking later.

“The trees that whisper in the evening, carried away by a moonlight shadow. Sing a song of sorrow and grieving, carried away by a moonlight shadow. All she saw was a silhouette of a gun, far away on the other side. He was shot six times by a man on the run, and she couldn’t find how to push through.”

Ra’naa, what’s wrong? You look sad. And that song, beautiful but also very sad.

She lifted her hand and felt wetness on her cheeks. She had not even realized she had been crying. She turned, not bothering to cover her body and tried to give Otres a reassuring smile. “I’m just thinking about my momma, that’s all.”

The little Uplift slid off the bed and scampered over to stand next to her. He stood at his full height of just over three hundred centimeters, and was still less than half her height. I’m sorry to say I never met her.

“Let me finish cleaning and I’ll get dressed, then we can see about getting some breakfast.” Ra’naa sniffed and wiped her eyes again. She quickly finished cleaning her body, feeling much better already.

Otres scampered over to the door and reached up to grab the handle. He was smart enough to understand she was not really in the right frame of mind to talk about her loss. He was going to respect that.

“Hey, give me a second to get dressed!” She called out and then ducked so she was out of the line of sight of anyone possibly passing by.  Ra’naa was not all that modest a woman, and then again most of the people living in the community were not. It came from the generations they survived in the mountain shelter, being forced to give up privacy for a chance to survive.

Once winter hit, if it was turning out to be a particularly bad winter, most retreated to the shelter to await the warmer weather. Articles of clothing like bathing suits were something no one ever bothered with when they used the pool. It was all-natural. She could picture anyone who lived in the community naked, if she wanted to.

Still, she did not like showing off when she was not at the pool, exercising or training.

Otres looked at her curiously, and then left the door closed. He placed one arm across his chest and used it to prop up his hand, which he held against his chin. It’s going to be nice day, why bother with clothing? Except in bad weather and when it is cold out, I really never understood why humans wore clothing.

That caused her to smile and she sniffed loudly. Otres knew exactly why people wore clothing, but he was only being silly for her sake. It made her love the little Otter all that much more. “Thanks, Otres.”

He grinned and chittered. I just like looking at you naked anyhow.

That statement caused her to stare back at him, her hand paused as she reached out for her undergarments. “Seriously?”

Otres’ grin grew wider. Of course! I like to imagine what you would look like with a coat of fur and whiskers, none of that yellow hair you have on your head!

She could not tell if he was being silly or serious. All of a sudden, Ra’naa was wondering if her sleeping naked with the little Otter had been such a good idea. It seemed perfectly natural and innocent enough. Then again, Otres was a male and to her knowledge, he had never found a mate.

Ra’naa decided honesty was for the best. “Otres, we’re not even the same species. I’m an Exotic and you’re an Uplift. You’re my friend and I love you as such, but… Really? That’s just wrong.”

He blinked and his hands dropped in time with his mouth. What, do you think I want to mate with you? To have sex?

She nodded.

Otres’ mouth worked and his whiskers twitched madly, and finally he began his squeaking laughter. I don’t want to have sex with you, but if you were an Uplift like me, I would most definitely want you as a mate!

Ra’naa pulled on her undergarments and then walked over to a chest of drawers. She spent a minute to compose her thoughts as she rummaged through it, looking for something to wear. She settled on a tight, white shirt and accentuated her smallish breasts and then pulled out a matching white skirt.

Slipping the garments on, she realized how embarrassed she was over their conversation. She really never put into any thoughts of finding a man and settling down to bear his children. She did not know why, maybe it had something to with how long she would live, barring violence, disease or accident. Maybe it had something to do with the fact she never met the right man.

She slid the shirt down and then pulled on the skirt, adjusting it so it fit comfortably around her tail. At long last she turned and faced Otres. “You know, If we were the same species, I think I’d want you as a mate as well,” she confessed, feeling her cheeks redden. “It’s all water under the bridge at any rate, so I’ll settle having you as my friend.”

He squeaked and bobbed his head up and down a couple of times in agreement. Thank you, and likewise. Otres scampered over to the window and looked outside, taking in the view and looking at how quickly the streets of the community filled up.

“Otres,” Ra’naa called out a second later. “What do you think?”

He turned to see she had placed several fake flowers in her hair. The bright red and blue of the artificial plants really contrasted well with her blond hair and electric-blue eyes. He chirped and grinned his approval.

“Let’s go see Momma Rathbourne,” she said a second later, as she grabbed her gun-belt from the nightstand and strapped it to her hips. “I know I am famished, and I’m sure you want something to eat as well.”

You said she wanted me to visit her anyways, so why don’t we get food and speak to her at the same time?

She laughed and slipped on a pair of white sandals. It was still cold out, but she did not mind, she had been waiting nearly all winter for a chance to wear them. She came to stand next to the Uplift. “You just want her baking again, admit it!”

He squeaked his own laughter and bobbed his head up and down. For sure! I could grow old and fat eating her food.

Ra’naa opened the door and the two of them stepped out into the chill of the early morning.

***

Declan woke, feeling cold and sticky. His eyes snapped open and for one disoriented moment, he could not remember where he was. Then the memories of the night and Tara’s sweet, sweet body came rushing back to him.

“Wow, that woman can fuck,” he said out-loud, only slightly disappointed to discover that sometime after their last act, she had taken the time to dress and leave. Already he missed the heat of her body and the softness of her fur as she lay next to him. Starting to feel slightly melancholy, he shook his head and forced the thoughts back into a deep, dark recess. “Morning, Babs.”

“Hey, Doc… wow, who knew you fucked like a bunny! I should be jealous!” She laughed lightly.

He sat up and climbed out of the bed. His member was stuck to his thigh and one look at the sheets and he knew they would need to be changed and washed. When his gaze reached the edge of the bed, he saw Bab’s AI form sitting there, grinning. It had been a while since she had the opportunity to project a virtual image for him to relate to, and he found he missed it.

“Wash the sheets?” She stood and walked around to stand next to him she looked down at the bed. “Fuck that, Doc… burn them. Give them a good old fashioned Viking send-off!”

He felt a chill as a slight breeze caressed his naked rear. He glanced over his shoulder and discovered the window was open and the curtains were wafting in the slight flow of air. There was a large pitcher of water and several cloths, a bar of soap and a bigger, fluffy towel sitting on the stand.

The food Tara had brought before she practically raped him was still on the stand as well, and his belly growled audibly as he looked at it. “I gotta eat!”

Babs put her hand on her hip and tilted her head to one side. “You need to wash up!  I’m using your senses and even I can tell how bad you smell right now. Sweat, dirt and sex!  I’d die of embarrassment if I was you!”

He regarded her, not speaking. Babs’s virtual form was that of an Exotic, a rabbit exotic to be exact. She had beautiful, womanly curves and breasts that were small and compact, not at all like the type which attracted him. She was trim and clearly athletic, in fact she wore and old fashioned basketball jersey and a pair of short-shorts. Her legs were long and lean, but the feet were disproportionally long and wide, like those of a true rabbit.

“Good idea,” Declan reached out and grabbed one of the face-cloths, soaked it and then used the bar of soap. He started cleaning his crotch and member first. It grew very quiet and when he looked up, Babs was watching him. “Yeah?”

She grinned, showing her wide teeth and her long bunny ears stood straight up. “Nothing, it’s just when you think about it, after all the years we’ve been together, I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you naked, for real.”

He went back to the task of cleaning. His whole groin and thighs were coated in her now-dried juices and his own semen. He grunted, both pleased and ashamed when he discovered just how sore he was. “Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad, that woman can fuck,” he said once again.

“You know what she needs?” Babs reached up and tapped her buck-teeth with one long finger.

“You’re going to tell me anyhow,” Declan said, wringing the cloth in the cold water and soaping it up again. “Spit it out.”

“She needs pink fur and blue eyes like mine.”

He stopped and regarded his friend and current guest in his head. “That was pretty unexpected,” he considered her. “Why?”

For only a split second, there was a look akin to panic on his AI’s face. She hid it and shrugged, then did a quick pirouette, showing off a very fine ass and a little pink and white tail. “C’mon Doc, you know you like pink!”

He laughed and finished washing up. It only took him a second to find the clothing he was going to wear the night before. The shirt and pants had fallen to the ground during their several rounds of hot sex.

As he reached out and grabbed the shirt, there was a light rapping on the door. Declan looked up and opened his mouth to speak when it opened and a woman strode into the room. She was carrying a tray of food and stopped in her tracks, her mouth agape when she saw him standing there.

Babs started to laugh and walked over to the woman. She leered at the newcomer and then pointed her hand directly at what the woman was seeing. “Another one knocked senseless by the size of your Johnson!”

Some of his attitude was starting to reappear, now he was feeling so much better. He stood, holding the shirt in one hand, not bothering to hide his member. “Mind waiting until I say enter?”

The woman had a very hard time pulling her eyes from his manhood.  After a supreme effort of will, she looked up and met his eyes. “Sorry, I assumed you were still asleep. I brought you some breakfast and wanted to see if you needed anything.”

Declan nodded and indicated the bed, “Put it there.” He had to admit she was quite pretty, even if there was something askew about her features. He could not quite place his finger on what it was.

She nodded and entered the room. It was then he noticed she walked with a very pronounced limp and there was something strange about her hands. She was about halfway across the room when her nose wrinkled and a look of shock came over her face.

Babs laughed even harder at the look on the woman’s face. “Busted! She can smell the sex!”

Babs, shut the fuck up! Declan silently scolded his AI companion.

The woman quickly composed her face and placed the tray on the bed. She then noticed the other tray of food and reached to take it.

“No, leave it. I’ll eat both,” Declan told her.

She paused, her hand halfway to the tray. Declan then saw what he had not consciously noticed before. She had only three fingers on the hand, and they were jointed far more than a normal hand should have been. Declan realized he was staring and spoke again. “Thanks though, and what’s your name?”

She pulled her hand away from the tray and regarded the bed for several heartbeats before replying. “Anita. What’s yours?” She asked and then returned her gaze to the bed. She muttered under her breath, so low Declan could not hear or make out the words.

“Declan,” he replied. “A pleasure to meet you,” he hastily added.

“What she muttered was Tara’s name,” Babs informed him, “and it’s clear she’s not impressed.”

The silence hung in the air between them for several long moments before Declan turned and grabbed the pants. He was about to put them on when Anita cleared her throat. “You might be a little more comfortable with undergarments.”

He shrugged and had the pants halfway up. “Never got any.”

This time the mutant did sigh audibly. It caused him to stop and he looked at her, seeing a look of annoyance on her face. If she knew where he came from and what he was, she was not impressed or stars-truck by it. Before he ended up spending more than three hundred years in cryonic suspension, just mentioning he was a fighter jock had the girls all over him like white on rice.

With an equally deep sigh, he stopped. “What?”

She lifted her strange, mutant hand and pointed at the table. “In there.”

He looked at the night stand, which still held the meal Tara had brought, and winced. He never thought to look in it. Declan scooted over on the edge of the bed and opened the drawer. Sure enough, there was a couple of men’s underwear waiting. They looked strange, compared to what he was used to, but their form and function was clear enough. He grabbed the top one and quickly shucked the pants to put it on.

“I’ll come back in a little bit to gather the dishes and change the sheets,” Anita said as he buttoned the pants. Her face projected the absolute disgust the mutant woman felt, Declan could clearly see that.

He nodded and then put on the shirt, feeling much better, although still week and famished. “Thanks, and sorry about the mess,” he added hastily, not knowing why. Normally he would not give a damn what someone thought about his sexual exploits. In this case though, it was strange. He was not the exploiter, but instead the one on the receiving end. It felt strange, very strange, and yet… did he like it?

Anita nodded curtly and left the room.

Declan stared at the door for several long moments before he turned his attention to the food. He dug in, starting with the meal Tara brought.

“Damn, doc, she was both impressed and unimpressed all at once.”

“Ya think?” He said between bites. He was eating a cold stew, filled with a slightly congealed broth, meat, and vegetables. The meat tasted gamy and he figured it had to be venison or maybe some other animal the locals hunted. Still, it was not bad, even cold. He washed it down with the water Tara had left behind.

“I’m kind of itchin’ to see what it looks like around here,” Babs said. Her virtual form was sitting on the edge of the bed and she was examining her pink fingernails. “Need a trim,” she muttered to herself, although he could hear it clearly.

He put the now-empty bowl aside and grabbed the food Anita brought. He looked down at the plate and discovered it was several links of spicy-smelling sausage, a couple of eggs, and three small rolls of bread. Unlike the meal he had just finished, this one was still warm and he dug in with gusto. It was some of the best food he had ever tasted, at least, that’s how it seemed to him. His banites were already working hard to convert the mass he had ingested into muscle and other organic material.

After he was finished, he looked at the empty plates and considered what to do next. “Should we go out and find the General?” Babs asked. Her avatar was wondering around the room, looking at various objects, but never touching. Of course since she was nothing more than a figment in his mind’s eye, she could not touch anything, or interact with items.

Declan shook his head. “No, as much as I would like to see this community, I don’t have any shoes, and we should stay put.”

“I’m bored!” She whined.

“And I’m still hungry,” he countered, sitting back on the bed. He really was, as the banites tore apart the meals he ate nearly as fast as he could swallow. To make matters worse, he was still feeling exhausted. “I think I’m just going to go back to sleep. I’ll rest until Max returns and we can discuss what I’m going to end up doing here.”

Babs remained silent while he did his best to straighten out the bedding and furs. He looked down at the bed and yawned hugely. His banites did the most work when he was asleep anyhow. Finally he lay down on the furs and stretched out to his full height. It felt good, even if the smell brought back memories of the tiger-woman who had shared the bed with him.

“Just what are we going to do, Doc?” Babs asked as he closed his eyes.

“I don’t know…”

***

It had warmed up considerably as Ra’naa and Otres walked from her cabin towards the center of the community. Already the various inhabitants of the small town were up and busy. Those they passed called out greetings to both, since Otres was well known for his unique psionic ability. When several people came forward, each carrying items in various states of disrepair, Ra’naa shook her head and waved them away. Each time she told the would-be clients to wait until after Otres and she had a chance to get something to eat. Otres would be at her cabin, ready to see them by the early afternoon.

Before they reached Momma Rathbourne’s home, both could smell the delectable odors of baked goods. Ra’naa felt her mouth water as she imagined the bread and other treats the old mutant woman was famous for. Even Otres chittered and squeaked in anticipation when his sensitive nose found the scents.

Ra’naa walked up to the entrance and knocked lightly and opened the door when she heard Momma Rathbourne’s invitation. They entered to find the old mutant had been up since well before dawn, preparing her goods for trade. The displays in front of her kitchen were already filled with numerous loaves, buns and other goods.

“Ra’naa!” She smiled and stepped over, taking the young Exotic by the shoulders and kissing her lightly on the cheeks.

“Hi, momma,” Ra’naa smiled and then embraced the older woman.

Momma Rathbourne pulled away and looked down at Otres. Her smile grew even wider and she knelt, taking the little Otter in an embrace. At first Otres stiffened, not quite used to physical contact with people, but allowed the old mutant woman to fuss over him. When she could not see, he rolled his eyes at Ra’naa, who had to stifle a laugh.

“It’s so good to see you!” Momma Rathbourne gushed. “I am very happy you have decided to come and visit me,” she let go of him and stood. “I’ve prepared a nice meal for you both.”

True to her word, one of her tables had been cleared and there were a couple of plates set up with big mugs of water. Momma Rathbourne waved her hands at the table, indicating her two visitors should sit. She even had gone as far as to put an old crate on one seat so Otres could easily reach the offered meal.

They sat and enjoyed a meal with the old mutant. They spoke at length about the rescue of the pilot and their encounter with the Purists. Ra’naa thanked her for having the foresight to have Tara bring the EMP rounds. The rounds were pivotal in taking down the man in the powered armor. That more than likely had saved all their lives.

By the time they were finished catching up and reminiscing, over an hour had past. Momma Rathbourne had continued to bring them freshly baked bread and other goods as they spoke, until at last they had to turn her down.

“I am so pleased you’ve decided to come live with us,” Momma Rathbourne said to Otres, as she gathered up the empty plates. “You’ve been alone far too long and I worry so about you.”

I’ve always been able to look out for myself, Otres confessed. I have my entire life, but with everything that has been happening since before the cold months, I knew you would need my help. And I was getting tired of never having anyone to talk to.

“You know what you need?” Momma Rathbourne said, bringing back freshly filled mugs of water for both of them. “A wife.”

Ra’naa blinked and tried to hold back a laugh, while Otres only looked at the old mutant with his big eyes. I’ve never seen any uplifts like myself. It’s kind of hard to find a mate.

“What about the other Otters?” She waved her hand in the general direction of the ocean. “I know they were nearly wiped out during the final wars, but you’re proof they’re making a strong comeback.”

Otres made a face and stuck out his tongue. No thanks, he projected into their minds, the distaste clear in his thoughts. They’re too primitive for me and I want a mate who I can talk to and who can share her interest with me. All they want to do is eat, sleep, and play in the ocean.

Ra’naa grinned. “Sounds great to me,” she teased.

Momma Rathbourne tisked and shook her head. “You’re an uplift, think of the beautiful little pups you and some lucky girl would make. They would be just like their daddy!”

With his arms crossed under his chest, Otres shook his head in an emphatic no. I just can’t think of them in that way. Yes, I look like them, and they are my ancestors, but to me, they’re animals. He closed his eyes and sighed, then squeaked quietly. Look at it this way, would you mate with an ape? He looked from Momma Rathbourne to Ra’naa. Or how about you, would you mate with a lizard?

Both women looked thoughtful, although Ra’naa had a disgusted look on her face. “No, I sure wouldn’t.”

I’m happy you both see my point of view. Maybe I’ll come across another Uplift like me someday, but until then, It’s a bachelor’s life for me.

Ra’naa found the thought to be deeply depressing. She did not have a boyfriend, nor did she have a lover. Though Tara always thought she was ‘experienced’, her friend would be flabbergasted to discover Ra’naa was still pure. It had been hard to resist. The urge to – she had to smile – fuck like a rabbit, as Tara so aptly put it, did happen from time to time. She knew eventually she would find a man and settle down, but she had years, maybe even centuries to look forward to.

When the right man came around, she would know.

Momma Rathbourne sat perfectly still, her eyes moving and seeing, and yet not seeing what was right in front of her. The old mutant woman frowned and she reached out as if to touch something. The frown deepened and she shuddered, mouthing the word no over and over again.

Ra’naa had only witnessed the event a couple of times before, and she instantly knew what was happening. Momma Rathbourne was seeing the future, something that was to come to pass in the next twelve hours or sooner.

What is happening? Otres squeaked in dismay, his whiskers twitching and his little nose wrinkling, showing his concern. Is she sick?

Ra’naa reached out and placed a hand on Otres’s arm and gently stroked it. “It’s alright; she’s just seeing an event. When she comes out of it, she’ll let us know what is happening.”

As if that was the cue she had been waiting to hear, Momma Rathbourne’s eyes cleared and she shook her head. The frown did not disappear, though. Whatever she had witnessed had bothered the old mutant. She reached up with a calloused, wrinkled hand and rubbed her forehead.

Concerned, Ra’naa reached out and took the old woman’s free hand. “What is it, momma?”

“I saw a little girl, maybe only about three years old, except she wasn’t a little girl. Something about her was strange. I think she’s an Uplift, but she looks like a human.” Her voice was low and filled with apprehension. She wiped her forehead, which was suddenly coated by a thin film of sweat. “She’s in the woods, maybe an hour or so from here as the three-eyed crow flies,” she pointed to the Northwest.

An Uplift that looks like a human? Is such a thing possible? What’s going to happen to her? Otres asked, his hands washing themselves in front of him, showing his own growing agitation.

“She’s being stalked, although I can’t see what it was. Only that she is in danger,” She looked at Ra’naa, her eyes pleading. “Can you do something to help her?”

Ra’naa chewed her lip and ran the tip of her right hand’s fingers along her horns. Yesterday had been exhausting, that combined with the very late night and early waking left her still physically drained. Momma Rathbourne had always been kind to her, and acted like her mother many times when she had needed it the most.

She suppressed the building sigh, not wanting the old mutant woman to hear it. Instead she covered it up with a smile. “Of course I will.”

Momma Rathbourne looked relieved. “Thank you, sweetheart, but if you’re going to save her, you best hurry.”

Ra’naa nodded and then looked down at her state of dress. She was perfectly fine for staying and working in the community, but her clothing would be a hindrance in the wilderness. The white would stick out and provide no protection. She knew she had to change.

I’ll come with you; Otres squeaked and grabbed the edge of her skirt, pulling it slightly to get her attention.

She considered telling him no, since he had to be as tired as she was, but dismissed it with a mental shake. She could use the company, and it might be a good idea to get Tara. “Are you sure you’re up for this? I know how tired I am…” she trailed off to emphasise the point.

He bobbed his head up and down.

“Let’s go then,” she started for the door and then paused, looking back at Momma Rathbourne. “I’ll need more directions; the one you gave me was kind of vague.”

She looked inward and pictured the scene in her mind once again. Momma Rathbourne carefully edited out the vision of the Uplift child so she could see the area surrounding her. “I see a stream, just a few little way off… six meters or so. There is also a small copse of radiation-twisted trees, with long thorns instead of leaves off to the right, about four meters. The area is not that heavily forested either, as much of the growth is still trying to come back after the radiation faded.”

“I’m pretty sure I know the place you’re talking about,” Ra’naa answered, picturing the location in her mind. “We don’t go near it often, especially the hunters, due to the toxins that lingered there for so long.”

Momma Rathbourne nodded. “Go, child, save the girl.”

She did not have to be told twice.

***

Having changed into a different set of armor and clothing, Ra’naa and Otres moved quickly through the community. She left the sniper-rifle and instead settled for her pistol and an assault rifle. Gone were the comfortable sandals, as she put her boots back on. Sandals would not do for where she was going.

The morning chill was but a distant memory and the day was shaping up to be unseasonably warm. All around insects were buzzing and travelling, looking for food or plants to pollenate.  The streets were almost clear of traffic, as most of the people were hard at work in their various homes or shops.  Only the occasional person could be seen, working in their yards to plant gardens or repair minor damage to their homes.

Ra’naa was going for the small cabin on the opposite end from where she lived. It was Tara’s home and she knew it well, as she had spent many years playing with her friend under its roof. She stepped up to the door and rapped lightly on the wooden frame, not really surprised to see the curtains were still drawn. She waited for nearly a minute before rapping again, this time harder and louder.

Otres looked up at his friend and chittered his teeth to get her attention. Ra’naa, there is something you should know.

She was about to reply when her effort was rewarded with an audible grunt from inside the cabin. It was followed up by a string of curses, some of which caused her to turn red. The anger-fueled invectives grew louder as Tara approached the door. The tiger-woman flung it open and glared at her friend, then blinked rapidly in the bright light and brought her hand up to shield her eyes. “Ra’naa, what the fuck?”

Ra’naa took in her friend’s state. She was completely naked, and she did not bother to cover her breasts or groin, though anyone looking would have gotten an eyeful. Her hair was mussed and tangled, and the fur on and around her groin was matted. The stench of sex and dried semen was almost overpowering. Ra’naa recoiled and instantly mumbled an apology. “Sorry, go back to bed.”

Tara leaned against the doorframe and blew a strand of her white hair out of her blood-shot eyes. “I’m up now, so let me repeat… what the fuck?”

Feeling guilty and embarrassed – and if she wanted to be completely honest with herself, kind of jealous, Ra’naa outlined what Momma Rathbourne saw.  Tara’s face grew darker with each word and she absently scratched the matted fur right over her exposed crotch. “Can’t you handle it on your own?” She said waspishly. She then noticed Otres and gave him a curt nod. “Morning, Otres.”

He bobbed his head back, but could not bring himself to look her in the eyes.

Ra’naa’s feelings turned dark and she felt her anger growing. She loved Tara like a sister, even if the tiger-woman wanted far more than sisterly love, but this was really going too far. If Tara had asked her, she would not have hesitated for a second. “You know what Tara? Forget it. Go back to bed and fuck your boy-toy. Otres and I can handle it ourselves.

The entire time the little Uplift had been standing to the side, watching with growing distress. He could have told Ra’naa her friend had been up mating almost the entire night, as the air was thick with the mixed scents. He did want to tell her however, that one of the scents came from the man they had rescued. He also did not like this side of the tiger-woman. She was so harsh and unfriendly. He squeaked in protest as Ra’naa grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him away from the door.

The sound of the cabin door slamming was as loud as a gun-shot as Ra’naa and Otres walked away. Otres could feel the anger, shame and disappointment wafting off his friend in waves and he reached out with his mind, to try and sooth her. I’m sure she didn’t mean it.

Ra’naa laughed a short, humourless bark. “The hell she did,” she growled, fuming.

They walked in silence until they reached the edge of the community, Ra’naa seeming to grow angrier with each step. It was starting to affect Otres and he stopped in his tracks, crossing his arms across his little chest.

Ra’naa walked nearly fifty meters before she realized her friend was not with her. She turned to see him staring at her, concern etched visibly on his furry face. His big eyes were filled with worry and his whiskers twitched. She took a deep, calming breath and walked back to him and knelt before the little Uplift so they could see eye to eye. “What is it?”

He reached out and patted her on the cheek. I don’t like to see you like this, it’s not right.

She blew out her cheeks in a huff of displaced anger as her tail swished on the ground behind her. “You need to understand that Tara, despite being my best friend, can be a real bitch sometimes.”

Otres cocked his head and squeaked several times. Why? She was always so kind to me when we talked.

“It has a lot to do with her – I don’t know how to really explain it… heritage? The tiger has always been strong in her and she gives into her more primal needs and desires. At least once a month she wants to have sex.” She paused, considering her choice of words. “No, it’s not really she wants to have sex, but the instinct to mate is overpowering.  In her case, older she has gotten, the worse it gets for her.

I see, I think… He cupped his chin with one paw as he mulled it over. So, what you’re saying is her instinct is far more developed.

She sighed and rubbed her horn. “Yeah, that is pretty much the case. It also makes her very selfish. When she wants something, she takes it and does not even consider the possible consequences of her actions.”

Otres nodded. Let’s find this human-like Uplift and then we can deal with her when we get back.

Ra’naa stood, brushed the knees of her pants and nodded. “By the way, you were trying to tell me something before I knocked on her door?”

Yes, I wanted to warn you I could smell the scent of her sex even before she opened the door.

“It really wouldn’t have made any difference, knowing or not. I was still going to ask.” She nodded towards the forest. “I don’t know how much longer we have, but we better get moving.”

Otres nodded and they left the community, entering the forest.

Index for the entire book!

Chris Van Deelen is the author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC sourcebook  Creatures of the Tropical Wastes  sourcebook, co-author of its  Wisdom from the Wastelands  game supplement and contributor to the  'Sword of Kos: Hekaton'  Anthology.