Buck Who? Chapter 17

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 17: Welcome to the Neighborhood

May 1st, 2668: Scav Haven

Wrench watched, standing underneath an overhang of a store, which sold clothing and accessories. He entered and purchased several small items to keep the proprietor from chasing him off his property.

He was pleased to discover he did not have long to wait. After an indeterminate period of time, Ahteen and her party entered through the gates. They looked tired and hungry from their journey. There was no mistaking the Dragon-Exotic, although it still struck him as odd, seeing the Tiger-woman all black instead of her usual coloration. He knew it was the result of the encounter with the Ambusher. The only way they could get rid of the dye was to wait for it to wear off.

Keeping his recent purchase wrapped up and under one arm, he began to follow the group at a discreet distance. He watched as they dropped off their Brutes and then began to search for a place to eat. It was not difficult to follow them, as he could slip all but unseen into the crowds on the street.

When they entered the eatery, he decided he would follow. The rations the installation provided were nutritious, but lacked in texture and flavor. He had plenty of gold chits on his person. He was told to watch the budget, a lot of the gold he carried was from his personal stash – something the counsel would not have approved. He did not care though, even on a mission, he wanted to enjoy the fruits of his efforts.

He waited a few minutes before entering the eatery. No one paid him any mind as he looked around the establishment for a place to sit. He got luckier than he could have hoped for when a table, large enough for only two diners, was vacated near his quarry. Before anyone else could claim it, he sat down and stared at the menu. Upon entering, he already decided what he was going to eat, but it added to his anonymity.

Despite the din of conversation from the other patrons, Wrench could make out nearly everything being said Ahteen’s table. A minute later, the same waitress that had taken their orders arrived. He ordered his meal and handed her a couple of gold chits, more than enough to pay for it. “Keep the beer flowing” he added a moment later.

Wrench was a little disappointed the conversation at the table was essentially small-talk. He had been hoping for a little more, especially about what they were planning during their stay in Scav Haven.

He ate and drank, pretending to concentrate on his meal, but all the while he hung onto every word spoken by the small group. When the Purist arrived, he was not surprised to see Ahteen and her friends make a quick exit out the back of the establishment. There was just a twinge of fear on the very edge of his mind; a fear the Purists would recognize him. He knew there was no way the group could possibly recognize him as the man who assaulted them.

He was pleasantly surprised when the group entering took the very table recently vacated by Ahteen. They sat down, eyeing the patrons. Many of the obvious mutants stood up and quickly left. Wrench was not surprised. What he was shocked over was the Legion and Cartels having allowed such a dangerous and violent group into Scav Haven. He mentally shrugged and listened to the hate-filled derogatory comments being made by the men.

It was amazing how much hatred a man could harbor against a specific group of people. Wrench thought the Purist movement was made up of near-sighted fools. Those of untainted blood were becoming scarcer with each passing year. Even those who claimed to be of pure-blood ancestry often had unseen genetic deviations. The Exotics were a perfect example of that. They were pure human, but with their genetic genome mixed with the genes of animals. It was to alter to give them a trait their ancestors wished. The disadvantage, if one could call it such, is they no longer looked human.

Wrench decided to wait a few minutes. He still had half a beer left to him and he was not going to let it go to waste. The brew was thick and heady, and one of the very few luxuries he allowed himself. Alcohol was not allowed at the installation, and he knew the rule harkened back to the time when it was controlled by the military.

What his handlers did not know, would not harm him or them. Wrench took a long pull from the mug and allowed his eyes to roam everywhere but on the Purists. They ordered their meals and drinks and the waitress left quickly. She knew what they were and did not want to attract their attention.

Deep down, Wrench wondered what would have transpired if Ahteen and her friends had not made such a quick and un-noticed exit; would the Purists have started a fight? He was not sure about that. They may be well armed and armored, but they did not have the same level of weapons or tech as the Legion.

As was the case with Ahteen and her friends, he was disappointed by the lack of information he did not get from the Purists. They merely discussed their campaigns and openly mocked mutants and others, causing the few stalwart patrons to get up and leave.

Once he finished his beer, he stood up and dropped another gold chit onto the table, making sure no one but the waitress would be able to see it. He especially did not want the scumbags at the other table to walk away with a generous tip. It was likely the tip he was leaving her was more than she made in a single week while waiting tables. Wrench believed it would help make up for the poison she had to endure at the hands of the Purists.

When he stepped out into the street, the sun was beginning to set. Wrench stared up into the still drizzling sky for a moment and then put his hood up. He was trying to decide if he wanted to make camp in the ruins outside the walls of Scav Haven. Then again, maybe he would treat himself to one of the many inns and hotels.

Looking around, something about a half block down from his position caught his eye. He could see a gaudily lit entrance to a two-story structure. There were a number of semi-naked and completely naked women and men hanging out in front of the building.

Even at the distance, seeing the feminine flesh on display caused a stirring he was so careful to keep under control at the institution. There were several of the staff, who in their previous lives, had worked in the pleasure industry, but it was not the same. He reached into his pocket and felt the heavy gold and platinum chits in his fingers.

It was tempting, very tempting, but he refrained. Reproduction was always something carefully controlled and monitored in the Instillation, as an unexpected pregnancy would throw the resources out of balance and cause probable hardship.

When it came down to it, he did not know how to act around women at any rate and he was not sure how to begin.

Even with a prostitute.

Wrench turned away and walked in the opposite direction.  

***

May 1st, 2668: Scav Haven

“This is not good,” Tara exclaimed as they quickly made their way down the alley.

“No shit” Ra’naa retorted. “Who knew those Purist assholes would end up here at the same time we were.  I think we should abandon this and head straight home. Dad needs to know about what is happening.”

Scav Haven is quite a large city, Otres interjected. If we are careful, we may not run into them again.

“Always the optimist,” Ra’naa grinned. “I am ready to abort and return home.”

Declan cleared his throat as they exited the alley. He waved his hand and motioned for them to stay behind, while he left the alley to see if the coast was clear. He stepped out into the street and despite it being after dark, and raining, there were a lot of people coming and going. He did not see anyone who matched the men who had entered the eatery, and decided the coast was clear.

“Let’s take a hotel or inn a little deeper into the city,” Tara suggested.

Ra’naa chewed her lower lip but in the end, she reluctantly nodded her assent. She knew the city at least a little bit and took the lead. They passed through the crowds and Declan could not help it when he stopped and stared openly at the brothel they passed. There were men, but mainly women of several different species, standing out in the front. The sex-workers wore very little, especially the males, showing off their equipment to anyone interested.

Tara grabbed his arm and pulled him along, “Really, Declan? Window shopping when you have me?”

A green skinned woman with pointed ears, jutting tusks from her lower jaw, and three-fingered hands stepped up. She was naked and despite the strange look to her, she had wonderful womanly curves and pert breasts. The slick rain covered her whole body, causing it to shine in the light from the brothel. “Hey, sexy, twenty gold chits for you and your black pussy,” she offered. “You can do me while I do her!”

He felt more than heard the rumble of anger coming from Tara and quickly shook his head. “Thanks but no.”

“Are you sure?” She asked, spreading her legs slightly and running one of her thick fingers along her sex. “I’m sure your woman will enjoy it.”

“No, and that’s the last time I’m going to say it, bitch,” Tara snarled, “Now fuck off and find another client who is willing to pay. We’re not interested!”

The green-skinned woman laughed and sauntered away.

Otres laughed, squeaking several times as he scampered alongside Ra’naa. She’s just trying to make a living, so can you blame her?

With that in mind, they were just reaching the end of the brothel when they all heard a loud squeak and squeal. The sound caused Otres to stop in his tracks, nearly causing Declan to trip over him. The little uplift twisted his head and stared in open amazement at the second floor of the brothel. In the window was either an exotic or a very human looking Uplift. At a distance, she looked to be maybe 400 centimeters in height, just a little taller than Otres. She had a very human face, but her small and compact body was covered in a dark-brown fur, with lighter fur at the belly and throat. A thick head of hair cascaded down her shoulders and back, and she had whiskers and a long, thick tail.

Like an Otters.

The woman stared down at Otres and then waved, her tail swishing back and forth in excitement. She squeaked and chittered. “Hey, are you an Uplift?”

“Holy shit,” Declan gasped. “It’s a girl Otter!”

“That’s no girl, Doc,” Babs corrected him. “She is definitely a fully grown woman!”

Otres stared up at the small exotic or large uplift. He seemed at a loss for words, which was quite the strange event for the Otter. Without warning, he dropped to all fours and ran down the street, ducking in between pedestrians and avoiding anyone who got close.

“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that!” Declan half-laughed.

***

May 1st, 2668: Scav Haven

Otres ran for several blocks, ignoring the mental calls from his friends, even from Ra’naa. When he finally stopped, he could no longer see his friends, and he ducked into the shadows provided by an alleyway. He stood on his hind legs, panting and trying to slow his racing heart.

Why had he reacted this way when he had seen the prostitute? From the looks of the woman, she was young, probably not even into her third decade of life. She had all the markings of a River Otter, like him, but she was so human! Otres reached up with both paws and rubbed at his whiskers. She even sounded like an Otter! Same squeaks and chitters he made, although more feminine. To the untrained ear, they would have sounded identical, but he knew better.

After several minutes, his heart began to slow down and he found he could breathe again. Otres found he was very angry at his reaction. She was a prostitute, a woman who sold her sex for money, trade or favors. Even if she was an Exotic.

“Otres! Where are you?” He heard Ra’naa calling his name. They sounded close so he stepped out of the darkened alley and waved at them. The Dragon Exotic ran up and knelt before him, clasping his shoulders and staring into his eyes. “What is wrong? Why did you run like that?”

The little Uplift sighed and shrugged in a very human-like manner. I don’t know, he confessed. When she called out to me, I sort of panicked.

“Why?” Declan asked. “She’s a woman, and looks like you in some ways. Why not go back and talk to her?”

Babs laughed as she stood next to Ra’naa and Otres. “If she had her way, that hooker wouldn’t be interested in talking. She’d rock his world for him - that is if she’s into Uplifts.”

Declan shook his head. It was a damn strange world he found himself in. Talking, telepathic animals, humans who looked in part like animals. Was bestiality a possibility then? Would it be considered bestiality since Otres was sentient? Was that hooker an Exotic or one of the very advanced Uplifts?

I don’t want to talk about it, Otres stated flatly. Can we just go find a room to spend the night?

“Of course we can,” Ra’naa agreed. She was not sure what had bothered the little Uplift so much, but she was more than willing to do as he requested. She stole a sidelong glance at Tara, who was standing next to Declan, hanging off his arm. That also bothered her, the sudden and total change which overtook her friend. In some ways she liked it, seeing a much softer and caring side to the woman. In other ways, it scared her.

“There are a couple of hotels or inns close by, so we can get a room for the night. Tomorrow, we will begin searching for the weapons dad asked us to find.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Tara yawned and stretched languidly. “It has been a long day.”

Once they left the mouth of the alley, it did not take all that long for them to find a hotel. It had the fortune of having started out life as an actual hotel, much to everyone’s surprise. They were given two separate rooms, which Ra’naa paid for out of her funds. Once they had the keys, they went their separate ways to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

***

May 1st, 2668: Scav Haven

As much as it bothered Bradly, he managed to tamp down the urge to draw his handgun upon seeing every single one of the mutant scum. He had to constantly look about and once he saw the Legion in their superior powered armor, it helped to cool his blood-lust. He was almost physically sickened at the sight of so many genetic inferiors, wandering around freely the way they were, mixing with the pure.

What the hell was wrong with these people, he thought, dwelling on how sickening it was. He even saw pure-bloods and mutants walking together, hand in hand. Some had the audacity to breed!

Thankfully the eatery he had entered was all but clear of the genetic deviants. Those who had been inside when he and his body-guards had entered quickly made their way out, some leaving their meals untouched.

It did make him feel cleaner, as soon as the last of the mutated freaks had left. He could feel the anger and hatred from the other patrons, including the waitress who reluctantly took their orders. Still, the food was brought on time and it was excellent quality.

They were more than halfway finished their meal when a group of legion mercenaries entered the establishment. The men were dressed in body armor, including helmets and were carrying both handguns and long-rifles of a type Bradly did not recognize. One man in particular, a big brute of a fellow, standing at around 220 centimeters in height, really stood out. He was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses despite it being dark outside. They stood at the entrance for several long seconds, eyes going around the room only to settle upon Bradly and his body-guards.

Having found who they had been searching for, the men strode into the room and came over to his table. “What are you doing here, Purist?” The lead man wearing the sunglasses demanded.

Bradly ignored him for a moment as he finished chewing and swallowing. He then grabbed a mug of beer and took a long, long pull. At last he placed the mug down and looked up at the speaker. “Last time I checked I was enjoying a meal and minding my own business,” he said in a pleasant tone. “Unlike some people.”

“You’re not welcome here, Purist,” the man said, ignoring the jibe. “I want you and your people to exit these premises and get the fuck out of town.”

Bradly could feel his men tensing. He knew hands were reaching for or already held weapons. The trip to the city had been uneventful, much to his surprise. He really did not want trouble now. He gave the barest shake of his head, telling the bodyguards to stand down. To his knowledge, his men had not so much as made a rude gesture to any of the inhabitants of Scav Haven. As such, the legion had no right to arbitrarily evict him and his party. “On what grounds?” He asked pleasantly.

The man reached up and removed his sun-glasses. The dark lenses revealed a pair of reptilian orbs, bright red, which glowed in the light inside the room. “On the grounds that you are a murdering son of a bitch who should be taken out and shot like the fucking dog you are.”

Bradly felt his temper rising. In any other situation, he would have drawn his weapon, placed it between the mutant’s eyes, and pulled the trigger. He had no desire to get his men, or more importantly, himself killed.

“We have no intentions of harming anyone in this city,” Bradly answered. He kept his hands on the table, in clear view. “We are here to purchase parts for our vehicles and other supplies. Once we have accomplished our tasks, then we will be leaving your fair city behind.”

The angrier the mutant got, the brighter his eyes grew. “You and your shit-eating kind will leave,” he threatened in a voice that was amazingly calm.

There was the smell of ozone in the immediate area and Bradly could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He knew enough about various mutations to realize the mutant was gathering energy, either consciously or unconsciously. The situation could get deadly.

“Listen, we are not here to cause trouble. In fact we’ve been on our best behaviour since we arrived. We paid our entry fees, and then some to be allowed in. If you don’t leave us be, I will want to talk to your commanding officer. This is harassment, pure and simple.”

The mutant blinked several times and the gathering energy seemed to dissipate. It was clear he had never expected a known hate-group, one which has been committing genocide for several months, to use that line. He glanced at the other members of the legion, who were watching. The tension was so thick it was nearly a physical presence. “Fine, have it your way, but you better not so much as step on a mutant bug, or you will be killed.”

Bradly slowly reached out and took his mug of beer. He raised it in a mock salute to the mutant. “By your command.”

The mutant spit on the floor, turned on his heel and left without another word.

Once the legion squad had retreated, everyone in the room let out a collective breath of relief. Bradly’s body-guards relaxed, the tension flowing out of them as they reached for their own drinks.

A few minutes later, they got up and left. The two guards took the lead and made sure the legion troopers were not outside, waiting to ambush them. When the coast was clear, they waved for Bradly to follow.

The rain had finally stopped, but it was still cold out. Their breath misted in small, visible clouds before them as they walked in silence. All but a handful of shops had closed their doors for the night and there were few people on the street. Those they saw give the small group a wide berth, not wanting anything to do with them.

They had traveled maybe a single block when the sound of running feet approached from behind. All of Bradly’s guards whirled about, their hands going to their weapons. What they saw was a man, barely out of his teens, approaching. He slowed his run to a quick walk and held up his hands, showing he was unarmed.

“What do you want?” The closest of the guards asked in a gruff tone. His body language and tone made it perfectly clear he was in no mood for any sort of bullshit.

“You’re purists, right?” The man asked. He had stopped about three meters from the group and kept his hands held out to sides, palms towards the men.

“And what of it?” The same guard asked. His right hand was now gripping the butt of his handgun, ready to draw it at a moment’s notice.

Bradly watched impassively, wondering if this could be some sort of set-up to give the legion an excuse to attack. He was ready, and with his armor, it should afford him enough protection to escape. His men on the other hand…

The man’s words came out in a rush. “I want to join, and I know of quite a few men who wish to enlist.”

“Come with us then,” Bradly said, taking a step forward. His guards still did not relax, but that was what he expected. “Let’s talk while we walk.”

***

May 1st, 2668: Scav Haven

It had stopped raining and the clouds were finally starting to break. Declan stood at the window of the room he and Tara had taken. It was connected by an adjoining door to the next room, which Ra’naa and Otres had rented. Tara was sound asleep, snoring very lightly. She was tangled in the bed-sheets although her breasts were uncovered.

The Tiger-woman barely had given the door enough time to close before she had pulled his pants down and went to work on him. This time it had been quite rough and he was feeling sore and chafed, but it was still pleasant.

When Tara had drifted off to sleep, he had slipped out of the bed and gotten dressed. As tired as he felt, sleep was but an elusive dream for him. His mind was racing at a million miles an hour and his thoughts were a chaotic jumble.

“Still having trouble accepting the world as it is, aren’t you, Doc?” Babs asked. She was standing next to him, her avatar staring out the window into the street below.

Yeah, I am. This city, right on the ruins of a major megapolis, which is now a toxic and radioactive hell.  He sighed quietly. And it looks like tons of places I’ve been to over the years. The really weird part is this city is cleaner and better run than some of the ports we’ve been to.

Babs nodded and crossed her arms under her breasts. “I’ve been constantly scanning for wireless signals, trying to see if there are any, but so far nothing. Being inside you is like being blind and deaf in many ways.”

He grinned. Consider the alternative – if you weren’t hitching a ride with me, you would have been fried by the EMP or lost when my fighter crashed.

“Don’t get me wrong, Doc – I’m glad to be alive and be with you, despite your time with the oversexed kitty,” she nodded towards the sleeping form of Tara on the bed.

Declan did not bother replying. Instead he allowed his eyes to wander the street below. Nearly every establishment he saw was dark, the owners having closed for the night. Only a few doors down, the building was still open and people were coming and going. After a few contemplative minutes, he realized it was a bar. Not a noisy, party type bar, the kind he was used to frequenting when he was on leave, but a more relaxed and laid back affair.

“You’re thinking of trying out some of the local hooch,” Babs stated.

Yup, he confirmed. I can’t sleep, even after having all my juices pumped out of me. Maybe a beer or something stronger might help.

“Can’t say I blame you,” Babs smiled. She looked over at the sleeping figure of the Tiger-Exotic. “Fuck it, Doc. Let’s go.”

Very quietly, Declan left the room and made his way out of the hotel. In less than five minutes he had entered the bar. It was indeed the polar opposite of the typical bar he would frequent in the past. There were about two dozen tables and a single heavy oak bar at the rear. Gone were the holo-projectors and raucous music he was used to. About a third of the tables were occupied, mainly by couples or small groups. No one paid him any mind as he walked over to the bar.

The bartender was the strangest being he had ever seen. The man looked human, but had a deep green-grey skin color, and where hair would be on a human, he had long vines, festooned with green leaves. His eyes were the color of moss and when he grinned, there was no sign of teeth. “What can I get for you?” When he spoke, it was a soft whisper, which reminded Declan of a breeze moving through the leaves of a tree.

“Something strong,” Declan said. “Need to get some sleep later, something to help knock me on my ass.”

“Let me see the shine of your coin,” the bartender replied as he reached under the bar and picked up shot glass.

“You did remember to bring your money, didn’t you?” Babs scolded, a scowl on her face.

Instead of replying, Declan reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and removed several coins. He held them out to the bartender who nodded his approval. The man, if he was indeed a man, reached around behind him to a rack of bottles and removed one from the shelf. It was an old, scarred bottle, whose label was nearly illegible. The bartender unscrewed the cap and poured two finger’s worth into the shot glass.

With a nod, Declan picked it up and threw it down the hatch. It burned like fire all the way down, and he instantly knew it was a well-aged rum. He gasped and blew out his cheeks, earning a grin from the bartender. “Hit me again,” Declan held out the glass.

“Go easy, Doc,” Babs warned him. “Even with the banites, you might get too pissed to walk back to the hotel.”

Declan nodded and after finishing his third, he asked for a local beer, which the bartender complied. He sat there for nearly an hour, just nursing his drink and watching the other patrons. Everyone was pretty much keeping to themselves, although there was the white-noise presence of murmured conversations.

He was starting to feel the effects of the drink and was considering heading back to the hotel and Tara when a young man walked through the doors. Instantly Babs projected her avatar over to the man and she was scrutinizing him very carefully.

What is it?

“Doc, I’m getting a wireless signal from this guy!”

Declan decided he might stick around a little longer.

***

May 1st, 2668: Scav Haven

The room was dimly lit and smelled of ancient mildew and rot. There was a single table with a heavily scarred wooden top sitting in the exact center of the chamber. The only illumination came from an oil-lantern, hung over the table. Four chairs, none matching, were situated around the table itself.

In one of the chairs Bradly sat, trying to look cool and relaxed, even though for the first time in a very long time he felt naked and vulnerable. His two bodyguards stood off and about two meters behind him, their arms held at the sides, ready to draw their weapons.

Directly across from Bradly Travis sat another man. He was just shy of two meters in height and was wearing the leathers and skins of a man used to spending his time in the wilderness.

“So,” the man said in a casual tone. “I can easily gather nearly four-hundred rangers and hunters to your cause.”

“That’s a lot more than I had expected,” Bradly blew out a breath. He tried to breathe through his mouth, as the stench inside the room, and worse, the stench coming from the hunter, was nearly intolerable.

“We’re sick of dealing with the muties, especially the Damaged,” the man said as he leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. Even from the short distance separating the two men, his breath was foul. It smelled like week-old carrion left in the sun.

Bradly fought back the urge to gag and nodded. “They have been taking the best game and claiming the best hunting grounds for their own, haven’t they?”

“Yeah, and they tend to hunt us if we stray too close to their lands. Especially the Damaged. I’ve lost nearly a dozen friends to those cannibalistic fuckers.”

This time Bradly could not supress the shudder. Cannibals, why were so many of the mutants cannibals? He guessed it made a sick sort of sense, being genetically damaged and inferior in every aspect. It was another reason in the long list of reasons to exterminate the slime. “How soon can you gather your rangers and hunters?”

The man leaned way from the table and idly scratched the thick, filthy beard covering his cheeks and jaw. “Maybe two weeks, a month at the most. A lot of ground to travel.”

Bradly nodded. “And what do you want in return?” The man grinned. Even through his beard Bradly could see the darkly stained teeth from years of poor hygiene and neglect.

“Some of those fancy firearms, the auto-loaders and some decent body armor.”

Bradly nodded and kept his face neutral. They did not have that much to spare, and arming these thugs would be costly. He knew he would have to speak to his father and see if they could arrange something. “I’ll see what can be arranged once I return to my compound,” he told the man evenly.

The speaker scowled, but in a moment reluctantly agreed. It was the best he figured he could hope for. “When will we know?”

“I’ll send word to my people tomorrow or the next day,” Bradly said. He was now almost regretting having spoken to the sympathiser in the street. The man sitting across from him was barely passable as human, and Bradly would not have been surprised to discover he was a mutant.

“That settles it then,” the man stood up and offered his hand.

Bradly Travis stared at the offered appendage for almost a second too long before taking it. The man’s grip was powerful, and Bradly could feel callouses as they shook. It did surprise him a little when the man did not try to crush his hand. His respect, as long as he was a pure human, went up a fraction.

“I’ll return in two days,” Bradly said, relinquishing the grip. “And I’ll have my final answer for you then.”

Once they were outside, Bradly sighed and pulled a lungful of fresh, cool air into his lungs. He coughed ever so slightly, in an attempt to get the stench out of his chest. “Fuck, I’m going to have to get my armor fumigated,” he grumbled.

One of his bodyguards chuckled. “And we might as well burn our clothes.”

“Amen to that,” the last one said.

They quickly caught up with the rest of his squad and disappeared into the darkness-shrouded streets.

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, late night

It took some effort, but Otres was finally able to free himself from Ra’naa’s grip without waking her. He was tired from the day’s travel and he knew that it was sleep he required, but he could not stop thinking about the girl. His nose twitched and he rubbed at the whiskers in frustration, feeling more than a little angry at his sudden obsession. She was an Exotic, she had to be. That was not the kind of woman for him.

And to make matters worse, she was also a prostitute. She sold her body for sex with strangers, and from the look of her, she had to be in her early to mid-twenties. Depending on how early she had started her life as a prostitute, she could have had hundreds of customers by now.

If not more.

An obsession was an obsession, and he had to quench this one, otherwise it would haunt his thoughts for weeks, if not longer. He dropped to all fours and looked over his shoulder. Ra’naa was still sound asleep, curled him into a tight ball and muttering softly. It was a strange habit the woman had, and there had been times he tried to make sense of what she was saying. It was nothing but gibberish, and when he probed her thoughts, they too were a chaotic jumble of images, sounds and words. In other words, a typical dreaming state.

He considered using the door, and then turned his attention to the window. It had been left open, despite the night’s chill, to allow fresh air into the room. With the blankets, Ra’naa was warm enough and she looked comfortable. In a flash, Otres made up his mind and he slunk as silent as a midnight shadow over to the window and peered out. The drop was nothing he could not handle and in a second, he was on street level.

At this time of night, all the shops were closed. He saw one that had to be an eatery of some sort, and there were patrons coming and going from it. That was not his destination, where he wanted to go was in the opposite direction.

Otres had heard tales of Scav Haven, and he had spoken at length about the city with Ra’naa as they had waited for sleep to overtake him. He was pleasantly surprised to discover he was safer in the city than he was pretty much anywhere else. Still, he was an Uplift and he had no idea how the legion would react to his presence if he was alone. He figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

Moving swiftly and silently, Otres stayed within the shadows. The light which illuminated the streets came from light-poles, placed about every twenty meters. The light was generated by strips, and was strong enough to read by. He knew where the brothel was located. Even with sticking to the shadows and hiding every time he saw or heard someone coming, he made good time.

He stayed in the shadows and watched as patrons came and left. There was one sight that surprised him as he watched. There were several large and heavily armored men standing at the entrance, and two members of the legion walked back and forth, often disappearing into the darkness to the rear.

From his vantage point, Otres could watch the brothel and the patrons. He knew human’s obsession with sex. He really understood people’s obsession with sex. He himself wanted it so bad at times he could taste it.

And here was a potential opportunity.

Almost an hour passed before the object of his sudden and unexpected obsession appeared. She was still clad only in her fur as she walked out of the front entrance. She smiled a sharp-toothed smile at the guards who bowed politely at her passing.

Otres stared; fascinated and a little awe-struck as the Exotic, Uplift or whatever she was walked over to the edge of the building. She stood with her back against the wall. She held her hands in such a way they did not block anyone from viewing her goods.

She was lovely. Even for human standards, she was lovely. Otres knew enough about humans to know she had the right amount of curves, and she was not skinny. There was, as she had heard Declan say, a little meat on her bones. The girl was not fat, nor even pleasantly plump, just curvaceous. He was reminded of Tara and how she looked.

There were no potential customers in sight, so he decided to get a little closer to the woman. He dropped back into the shadows and scampered down the street, until he could cross in relative safety. Anyone watching would see him, but he was fast and made it across without notice.

Otres’ heart was racing as he approached from the side, still sticking to the pools of shadow, avoiding the light least he be seen. The managed to get within three or four meters of the girl and he sat on his haunches, just staring.

A slight breeze wafted past the girl and he caught her scent. It was fresh and clean, as if she had just taken a bath. There was also a light, flowery scent he recognized as a perfume most women enjoyed to use. It was not exactly the same as the perfumes Ra’naa would often use, but then again she had quite a selection.

There was also the heady, musky scent of her sex. He felt light-headed as he inhaled and held it in his nose, tasting the very air.

Suddenly, without warning, the girl turned and stared directly at him. He froze, feeling like the proverbial deer caught in the hunter’s light. He held his body perfectly still, not so much as breathing or letting his whiskers or tail twitch.

She glanced around, and then began to walk towards him.

Directly towards him.

Otres felt panic welling up and he dropped to all fours, ready to bolt.

“Wait!” She called softly. “Don’t run away this time, please!” Her voice was soft and low, not as high-pitched as he had expected it to be. She held out her hands in front of her, as if trying to calm a frightened animal. “I’m Arleen,” she said quietly. “Can you speak?”

The phrase she used was almost insulting. He slowly stood up and crossed his forearms. He knew he should not feel slighted, but he did. Did she think he was some mere animal? He chirped quietly and shook his head in the negative.

Arleen took two more steps closer, not moving quickly or making any sudden moves. “You can’t talk, but you can understand me?”

He nodded and chittered, still feeling annoyed.

She was close enough to touch him, and she held her hands out in front of her. “Are you an Uplift?”

Otres nodded again. He continued to drink in her scent, becoming intoxicated by it with each passing breath. His heart continued to pound and he felt the blood rushing through his head like a tidal wave. His mouth was dry as the desert, and his stomach fluttered. He glanced down and was terrified, wishing beyond hope he would not be showing his intense excitement.

Thankfully, his body, at least that part of his body, remained in control. That in on itself annoyed him further. He was not supposed to have any sexual interest in humans, Exotics or other humanoids.

Yet she was a woman, an Exotic, and she smelled – right. It was the only word for it. Despite it all, he reached out with his own hand and allowed it to touch hers. It was as if an electric jolt had shot through his body. Otres thought his head would explode, not from pain, but from pleasure.

“You feel it too, don’t you?” She breathed. He noticed her breathing had increased and he swore he could hear her heart pounding.

I’m Otres.

Her big, liquid-brown eyes went with at first shock, and then absolute delight. “You can speak!”

After a fashion. It’s nice to meet you, Arleen. Are you an Exotic?

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I think I’m an Exotic, but I could be an Uplift.”

Before he knew it, her fingers were intertwined with his. You don’t know what you are? Through the telepathic link he had established the incredulousness of his thoughts were clear. How is that even possible?

“I never knew my parents. I was found by scavengers in the ruins,” she gestured vaguely towards the ruins of Seattle. “They brought me here and I started my new life cleaning and cooking and working with the other girls until I was old enough…” She looked away to hide the look in her eyes. “It’s the only life I’ve ever known.”

Otres was at a loss for words. He did not know what to say to the woman, who was now holding his hand. After several long moments, she returned her eyes to his and held his gaze with her own.

Carefully, as if she was trying to comfort a skittish horse, she reached out with her other hand and touched his face. She then ran her fingertips gently across his throat and down his chest. She stopped and placed her palm over his heart, feeling it beat beneath the fur, flesh, muscle and bone. “You are real,” she said, almost in amazement.

He gave her a chittering laugh and cocked his head to the side, the way he had seen Ra’naa, Tara and Declan do. Last time I checked, his laugh echoed in her mind.

She grabbed him and before he could protest, hugged him tightly. Unlike with Ra’naa, this hug felt subtly different. For one, they were far closer in height and her very scent, heady with her femininity and animal musk was making him light headed.

He knew it felt natural, but in a very different way. The love he felt for Ra’naa was different, a different kind of love. More like that of siblings or close friends. His intellect knew that what he was feeling now was pure lust.

“Otres,” She said, running her hands through his back fur and likewise breathing in his scent. “Let me come with you.”

He squeaked in protest and despite his own burning lust, he untangled his body from her grip. Arleen, we just met, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me! How can you ask a perfect stranger to take you?

She looked at him in confusion. “Perfect strangers take me multiple times a day, why would this be any different?”

Otres blinked and then grabbed his head with both hands. What? I’m confused.

“I want you to take me away from this place. You are the first Uplift I have ever met that is like me.  I feel a connection, don’t you?”

I feel something alright, He admitted. And it is not that sort of connection!

Dawning comprehension appeared in her eyes and she nodded. “For you,” she placed her hands under her furry breasts and lifted them. “Take me from here and I’m yours.”

Otres blinked sighed very long. Uh, that is not what I meant. I think we’re getting our signals badly crossed here.

“I don’t really care!” She almost shouted. “I just want to leave here. I don’t care if you live in a hollowed-out log, I just can’t take being used like this anymore.”

Otres studied the girl. He realized she was just a girl. Sure, she was clearly a woman grown, but just barely. How old are you?

Arleen blinked. “What does that matter?”

It matters to me.

She chewed on her lower lip, her whiskers twitching. “I think I am sixteen or seventeen.”

He was about to ask her how she did not know, and then he remembered her saying how she was raised in the brothel. Depending on how old she was when they put her to work in the sex trade, the number of men who have been inside her could range into the thousands. A visible shudder ran through him. Still, despite this, he shook his head. I’m sorry, but I can’t take you with me. We are going to be here in the city for at least a week, if not longer. I don’t know how my friends would react to you.

“Arleen, is that you? What are you doing down there?” A male voice called out. She turned and looked out into the street. Two of the guards who had been at the entrance were walking towards her.

“Yes, it’s me,” She called back. “I thought I saw something here and wanted to take a look.”

Otres did not wait; he dropped back down to all fours and moved like a furry missile. He dodged through the shadows until the mouth of the alley was far behind him. He paused, hunkered behind some old crates, and stared back the way he had come. Arleen, the unknown woman, was talking to the guards. When she turned to look down the alley, despite the distance separating them, Otres could see the sadness in her eyes and it nearly broke his heart.

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, late night

Are you certain?  Declan asked.

“Yup,” Babs said. Her avatar had walked over to the newcomer and was studying him intently. She pointed at one side of the jacket the man wore. “He’s got a powerful communicator in his pocket. I have never seen this particular model. I’d guess it was released sometime after we had entered cryogenic suspension.”

Can you intercept any signals? Declan asked, and then gave his forehead a mental slap. Of course not, I never did have the hardware installed. I’m surprised you could detect the signal.

“Doc, have a few more drinks, I want to study this guy. And no, you may not have the correct hardware, but your hardware was set up for both wireless and wired transmission and receiving. I have a few programs I downloaded with me I can use,” Babs grinned and pulled out an ancient rotary telephone. It was something Declan had only seen in museums and dramas set in the twentieth century.

Are you going to be detected?

She stopped and placed her hand on her hip and gave him ‘the look’. She shook her head, refusing to answer such a stupid question.

Doing as she suggested, Declan held up his hand and the bartender filled his shot-glass with another two fingers. “Hey, got anything to eat here?”

The strange bartender looked at him and then slowly nodded. “We have a mixture of nuts and wild berries, if you want that.”

Declan shrugged. “Sure, I’ll take a bowl.”

The green bartender reached under the counter and produced a wooden bowl. It held strange-shaped nuts and oddly colored berries. For only a second Declan considered declining the offered food, but when the bartender put it in front of him, he thanked the man. “Add it to my tab.”

The bartender nodded and went over to the newcomer. The man was wearing a hood and it kept his face hidden from view. They spoke quietly for only a minute and the bartender produced a bottle of beer. He twisted off the cap and handed it to the newcomer, who in turn dropped a couple of sliver chits on the counter.

“I’m detecting a ton of electronic devices on this fella,” Babs informed him. “He’s carrying a pad, at least two energy pistols, and some gadgets I’m not really familiar with.” She leaned in and scrutinized him. “I didn’t think that was possible… he’s got a personal teleporter!”

Declan, who had been in the midst of taking a drink, swallowed it the wrong way and went into a coughing fit. The bartended and several of the patrons, including the newcomer, turned and stared. He waved an open hand apologetically and got his breathing under control. “Sorry, went down the wrong way.”

Those were supposed to be nothing more than a rumor! He thought. I know that the Annunaki were supposed to have that sort of tech, and that the NorRuCom government had been researching it.

“Well, either they had a breakthrough during our nap, or else they acquired the tech from the aliens,” Babs said. She backed away and continued to scrutinize the man. “Very peculiar.”

Declan downed his drink and ordered another. The bartender complied, but looked at him quizzically. “Something on your mind, stranger?”

It took him a second to realize the bartender was addressing him. Other than to take the order, it was the first time the man had shown any interest. “No, nothing, just been a long day and I need something to relax my nerves.”

The strange green man snorted and gave him a smile. “Keep drinking this and you’ll relax yourself into a coma,” he indicated the door. “And I don’t allow people to sleep here, so if I see you’re about to pass out, I’m cutting you off and sending you away.”

“Right, gotcha,” Declan raised his shot-glass in salute. “Just keep them coming then.”

The green bartender refilled and went back to his other patrons.

After a few minutes, Babs came and sat on the stool next to Declan. She used her interface with him to produce a perfect image of the man who had the wireless. “So, this is what he looks like,” she told him.

Declan stared at the figure. He was male, probably in his early to mid-twenties. The man had dark hair and light-brown eyes. There was nothing remarkable about the man’s face, and he was not what one would call classically handsome. He was, well for lack of a better word, slightly cute. That is if he had been born with a different set of sexual organs or preferences. Looks like a pure human.

Babs nodded. “Kind of hard to tell without doing an in-depth examination of his body, or his genetic code. Still, I am intrigued as to why this man happens to have access to the high-tech gear he’s carrying. From what I understand about the economy in this new world, you could probably buy a mid-sized town with what he has.”

He threw back another shot and was really feeling the effects of the alcohol. Declan had a handful of the nuts and berries to try and help offset the effects. He found the strange-looking nuts had an even stranger taste. They were like eating the dried banana’s he used to enjoy. The berries, well, they tasted like a combination of Blueberry and Strawberry. Not a bad mixture after all.

I think maybe we should head back to the room. I’m starting to have a hard time sitting without wobbling.

“Doc, you maroon! You had too much!”

Hey, you’re the one who suggested I have a few more shots so you could have a look at the stranger! He stood and was pleasantly surprised to see he could stand without too much trouble. The bartender came over and Declan dug into his pocket and pulled out a couple of gold chits. He handed them to the bartender and when the man did not ask for more, he nodded politely and went towards the door.

It took Declan nearly twice as long to return to the hotel, but he made it without any mishaps. His stomach felt a little queasy, but his iron will – well, and maybe the banites, prevented him from spewing all over the road.

The hardest part was climbing the stairs to the second floor. He had to hold onto the railing on either side and after nearly three minutes, he was at the top. He studied the doors and took the first one he came to. The door was unlocked and he opened it, stepping into the darkened room.

He failed to close the door completely, so there was a little light coming in from the hall.  Declan heard mumbling coming from the bed. He stripped out of his clothing and climbed in. He had a powerful erection, and was eager to use it on Tara. Sliding into the bed, he snuggled up against the woman’s back. The form shifted on the bed and suddenly sat up as his erection poked her in the rear.

“Declan? What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!?” Ra’naa cried in a voice filled with equal doses of outrage, indignity, and disgust.