Buck Who? Chapter 2

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 2: Fire in the Sky

April, 23rd  2668, Somewhere Northeast of Seattle, Washington, along the Canadian and American border.

“Oh how I wish, for soothing rain, all I wish is to dream again. My loving heart, lost in the dark, for hope I’d give my everything.” A young woman sang as she stood above a long work table. Before her were spread the parts and pieces of numerous weapons. She stood and shook her long blond hair as stared at the mess as she continued.

The bench was set out against the side of an ancient log cabin, one that had seen centuries of winters and summers. Still, even after all these years, the venerable structure remained well-maintained and much loved. It was a beautiful late-spring morning and she relished being outside in the sun. The winter had been particularly long and hard, and she had grown sick of life in the mountain caverns.

They only used the caverns during the harshest and coldest of winter months. Many times over the years the community she called home would travel down to the coastline and spend the winter there. This year had been different however. The war raging between the Purists and pretty much all the tribes and coastal communities was becoming more and more brutal with each engagement.  Thus one of the reasons she was busily refurbishing the stash of weapons before her.

“My flower, withered between the pages two and three, the once and forever bloom gone with my sins. Walk the dark path, sleep with angels, call the past for help. Touch me with your love, and reveal to me my true name.” She picked up a barrel and held it up to the light, inspecting it. For a weapon that had lain hidden beneath wreckage for over three centuries, it had weathered the elements surprisingly well. She could not say the same for the rest of the parts and pieces before her.

“Oh how I wish, for soothing rain, all I wish is to dream again. My loving heart, lost in the dark, for hope I’d give my everything.” She continued, as she picked up a cloth and a stiff wire brush and began to run it up and down the length of the barrel. “Oh how I wish, for soothing rain, all I wish is to dream again. Once and for all, and all for once, Nemo my name forevermore. Nemo sailing home, Nemo letting go.”

“Don’t you ever tire of those ancient songs?” A voice called out from behind and to the left.

The woman smiled as she put the barrel down and turned to face the speaker. “No, I don’t.” She answered.

The speaker was a tall woman, one hundred and eighty centimeters in height. She wore an ankle length white skirt and a white blouse, open to her naval, showing off her firm, muscular stomach. The white blouse pulled taunt against large breasts, and from the way they pushed at the fabric, it was clear she was not wearing a bra. She wore a pistol belt with two holsters, which hugged her hips. The woman was bare-footed, and her long, tawny hair was tied back into a single ponytail. Where her skin lay uncovered, a fine layer of black and orange fur could be seen. Her face and features were human, but she had sharp teeth and deep green, feline eyes. A pair of furry ears peeked through her long hair and twisted this way and that. Just beneath the hem of her dress a long tail could be seen.

“Tara, come here and give me a hand,” the woman waved one hand at the table behind her. “I’m pretty sure that I can salvage most, if not all of these weapons.”

The tiger-striped woman named Tara wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Forget it, Ra’naa; I’ve got better things to do with my time.” She rubbed her hands together as if washing imaginary dirt from her fingers.

“Oh?” Ra’naa challenged. “Like what? Rutting with Jas’nar?”

Tara stopped rubbing her hands and her face fell for just an instant. “He doesn’t want me,” she confided, sounding a little disappointed.

Ra’naa crossed the short distance between and put her arm across the other woman’s shoulder. Although the tiger-striped woman was tall, Ra’naa was even taller. Tara was quite voluptuous and very muscular, but Ra’naa had the long lean body of a dancer or a runner. She was nearly one hundred and ninety four centimeters in height. A pair of large horns curved from her forehead on either side of the temple, reaching nearly a foot in length. Her almond shaped eyes gave her an Asian appearance, but were an electric blue in hue. A pattern of green and gold scales ran from between her horns, down between the eyes and covered her nose entirely. The same pattern curved along her temple and ran under the hairline. It could be seen on her neck, and this disappeared beneath the light spring jacket she wore.

Unlike Tara, she wore a black form-fitting shirt beneath her brown jacket. This was tucked into a pair of forest-green pants, which hugged her legs like a second skin. She was barefoot, as her feet were longer than those of a normal human’s. There were five long toes, which resembled fingers and were tipped with talons instead of nails. A long, reptilian tail swayed in perfect rhythm behind her as she walked, reminiscent of a dragon or another similar creature. Whereas Tara had large breasts, hers were small and compact. She was still curvaceous, but not voluptuous as her smaller friend.

“I’m sorry, Tara. I really thought that you two had something special.”

If Tara was really upset, the woman did not show it. “He’s just a human, not an Exotic like us,” She waved her hand dismissively.

Ra’naa stepped away from her slightly shorter friend and placed both hands on the woman’s shoulders. “He’s not just a human,” she scolded. “I don’t like it when you speak like that.”

Tara pouted and looked at the ground. “You’re right, he’s not just a human. He’s gorgeous and yes I thought we had a spark,” She looked at her taller friend and then placed both hands under her breasts. “I even offered him a chance to see me naked and yet he didn’t want to!”

“Could he prefer men?” Ra’naa asked. It was a legitimate question after all. She knew how most of the young and hot-blooded males in the community lusted after Tara.

She shrugged and let her hands drop. “Maybe, or maybe he found another woman he liked more.”

Ra’naa sighed. It was a small community, all things considered and the options for pair-bonding were somewhat limited. “Well, you will have to find a human male here, or maybe in one of the nearby tribes or other communities. After all, I’ve never seen another Exotic like you, so if you ever want to have babies, you better find a good human male!”

“Who said I wanted a human male anyhow?” Tara shot back, suddenly looking mischievous and a grin pulled at the side of her mouth. “I like girls too!”

Ra’naa sighed. She knew all too well Tara’s appetite. There had been more than a few cold nights the woman shared her bed. She knew how soft that fur was and how warm it felt next to her skin. She finally had to tell the woman she could no longer sleep with her. Ra’naa wanted the companionship, and the warmth, but she did not want the sex. She had to nearly giving into  tempation, as Tara’s roaming hands, especially the fingers between her thighs, had felt so wonderful. It just did not feel right. She craved the touch of a man. She had nothing against those who found love with members of their own sex, she was just not one of them, and had no interest.

Ra’naa wanted to have sex. She yearned for sex, but so far she had not found the right man. Other than her father, there were no other Exotics of her type in their small community. And there were well over two hundred Exotics of all manner living here. Sure, she could have easily bedded any of the men without fear of getting pregnant, but she did not want that. She wanted her first time to mean something, to be with a man she loved, and who loved her. Unless she found another Exotic genotype like herself, the only way she could have babies would be to find a human. The Damaged and those who had inherited genetic mutations could not impregnate her.

She threw up her hands and sighed. “There is no speaking to you,” she huffed.

“And you need to get laid so bad it shows!” Tara retorted.

The two women stood there staring at one another. Finally Ra’naa’s face cracked and she laughed. “Yes, I certainly do.”

“Then you go and screw Jas’nar!”

Ra’naa shook her head, her golden hair waving in the slight breeze. “He’s cute, but he’s not what I want as a husband.”

“Too human for you?” Tara teased.

“Don’t push it,” Ra’naa pointed her finger at the other woman, but the smile was still there. “He’s more like you than me.”

Tara crossed her arms under her breasts. “And what do you mean by that?”

“He’s as dumb as a stump!”

The look on Tara’s face caused Ra’naa to laugh so hard she almost peed. After several long seconds of sputtering and half-formed words, Tara burst out laughing as well. Finally the two young women managed to reign in their mirth. “Oh, that’s so true,” Tara had to admit. “At least he more than makes up for it with how well-endowed he is.”

That revelation caused Ra’naa’s eyes to shoot up. “You’ve seen him?”

“Yup, when he and his friends were in the hot-springs,” she grinned wickedly and spread her hands apart. “And he wasn’t even aroused!”

Ra’naa could not tell if her friend was joking or not. If Tara was not lying, then what she had just revealed ruled out him preferring men after all. “Look, I need to get these weapons cleaned and reassembled. Are you going to help me or not?”

“Sorry, I really am too busy. I just heard you singing and decided to take a few minutes break and ask you if you wanted to go hunting later.” She spread her arms wide. “The Elk herds made it through the cold months better than anyone expected, and we could use the fresh meat.”

“No, not tonight. I think I’ll take the weapons I can’t repair to little Otres. He will be able to get fix them.”

“Do you have any treats to bring to him?” Tara asked.

“Momma Rathbourne baked some sugar cookies and cinnamon buns last night,” Ra’naa said. I could smell them when I passed her home just after sunrise.”

Tara nodded. “Oh, he’ll love those! Alright, I’ll see you later then.” She waved and did a quick about face and left the yard. Ra’naa stood there staring after her friend for a minute. Sometimes the woman really annoyed her, talking about sex and men. It reminded her of how much she wanted it, and how often she had nearly given into temptation.

Her dad would be proud though, saving herself for as long as she had. With a sigh, she pushed the ever increasing carnal thoughts from her mind and returned to the bench. Three hours later, she had cleaned and reassembled nearly twenty of the old weapons. Six were too badly damaged for her to repair. Her mind instantly called up the image of the little uplifted Otres. He would be able to repair the badly corroded parts. With the Purists on the rampage, they needed every weapon they could lay their hands on.

A basket of cookies and buns would probably be enough for him to do the work the weapons required. The little Uplifted certainly had one hell of a sweet-tooth! She brushed her long hair back from her eyes and stared up into the sky. It was barely past lunchtime. She was not feeling all that hungry, but then again she had consumed a large breakfast. Even her dad had raised an eyebrow at the amount of food she had consumed.

She grabbed a sturdy rucksack and placed the badly damaged weapons into it before closing and cinching the ties. Ra’naa threw the pack over her shoulder and then stepped inside the rustic cabin. In less than a minute she found the ancient sniper rifle her family had lovingly maintained since the end of the final wars. It was a long-barreled weapon, which had quite a heft to it. The weapon had to weigh nearly nine and a half kilograms, not including the scope, bipod, blowback system and other attachments.

She slung the rifle over her other shoulder and barely noticed the weight. Though she did not look it, Ra’naa was very strong and more than a few men, women and creatures had discovered that little fact the hard way. Before she exited the cabin, she grabbed belt and thigh pouch from the wall next to the door. It held her other weapon of choice, a match quality handgun. It was yet another weapon handed down from generation to generation in her family. The thigh pouch held half-dozen magazines for the pistol and three for the sniper rifle.

It took her less than a minute to strap the belt around her slim waist and attach the thigh pouch. With one quick adjustment to the accessories, she was ready to go. She glanced into the mirror on the opposite side of the door and grinned. Her hair was slightly mussed, but it did not look bad. The scales around her eyes and temples seemed to glow in the dim light of the cabin. She was not vain, not by any stretch of the imagination. Many of those in the community thought she was highly attractive, if not beautiful. Ra’naa did not see it. She was pleased with her appearance, but to her there were plenty of other women far more pretty than her. Like her oversexed friend Tara.

She studied her appearance for another second and ran her left hand over her horns. Despite being as hard as steel, they were silky-smooth to her touch. She considered taking the time to polish them and maybe adding some decorations or color when she returned from her excursion. What to color them though, that was the question. She gave her head a shake and laughed. How strange to think about such trivial matters. Ra’naa shifted the rifle until it rested comfortably and then she left.

Outside, the sun beat down on her. She raised her face and gazed directly at the magnificent life-giving orb. Her right hand shaded her eyes enough to allow the nictitating membrane to react and protect her vision. It was just one of the various advantages she enjoyed being more than a human. She was born an Exotic, and it set her apart from the Humans, Damaged, Uplifted and other races that now shared the world.

Ra’naa figured she had maybe another eight hours of daylight. It gave her plenty of time to travel to see Otres, have him repair the damaged parts, and get back home. She might arrive a little after dark, but she was not concerned. She set off, leaving the workbench and the ancient rustic cabin behind.

The small community was bustling. People were busy, repairing damage that occurred during the winter months, planting gardens, and generally keeping busy. She knew each and every man, woman and child that lived in the small community with her. As she walked she exchanged greetings and pleasantries with most of the people she encountered. No one asked her what she was doing, as most of the resident’s respected privacy.

All around her small cabins and other structures crafted from the abundant natural materials stood in the spring sunshine. None of the structures were painted, as such a luxury was something they really did not need or want. Every single building she passed had flower-boxes in the windows, some in bloom, others holding various plants and herbs. There were few stores in the community, mainly catering to the trickle of traders who arrived several times a week during the warm months. Most of the residents bartered with one another for what they needed. She recalled her father referring to the community as a communist’s dream.

Communist.

It was a word she was not all that familiar with. She knew it had something to do with a type of government. That method of government had perished with the rest of the old world during the final wars. Whatever, she mused – it worked just fine for her and the rest of the residents.

Near the center of the community sat a tiny but quaint log cabin. Flowers were already blossoming in boxes and around the windows. She was still only about a dozen meters from the structure and the scent of freshly baked bread wafted into her nose. Her mouth began to water instantly.

Ra’naa stood before the small door and gently rapped her knuckles on the hard wooden surface. A second later a voice called out. “Come in, Ra’naa. I’ve been expecting you.”

She paused only for a heartbeat before entering. The interior of the cabin was neat and tidy, with nearly three quarters of the building dedicated to cooking and prepping. A tiny old woman, no more than one hundred and fifty centimeters in height, stood at one of the long counters. She was busy kneading dough. The scent of freshly baked goods was all but overpowering.

“Good morning, momma,” Ra’naa greeted.

“Come here and give your old momma a hug,” the little elfin woman said, a huge smile brightening her weathered and wrinkled cheeks. She was wearing an apron that hung on her like a tent. She wiped her hands on a towel and held her arms open wide.

Ra’naa obediently crossed the floor and bent down to hug the tiny woman. Momma Rathbourne kissed her on both cheeks and then let go, looking up at the much taller woman. “My, you seem to grow every single time I look at you!”

Momma Rathbourne had long gray hair, tied into a single pony tail. It ran down her back to just above the hips. She had deep brown eyes and laugh lines along her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. Her skin was deeply and permanently tanned from having spent decades beneath the sun. Although she was wearing a large apron, she also wore a tan dress beneath it. The dress reached to the floor, covering her feet. Despite her advanced age, a keen intellect shone in her eyes. Unlike many of the other elders in the community, she was thin. Momma Rathbourne had managed to maintain a figure that younger women were envious over.

Ra’naa chuckled and blushed. “Are you saying I’m getting fat?” She unconsciously ran a hand over her flat stomach.

“Not at all, not at all,” her smile seemed to widen. “You’re going to see Otres.”

Though she never confirmed it, everyone in the community knew that momma Rathbourne was a mutant. Other than being tiny and nearly as old as the mountains themselves, she had no physical signs of mutation. Her mutations were internal, what was known as psionics. She could see the future. Not very far into the future, typically only a few hours or half a day at the most, but what she predicted always happened. No one really cared that she was a mutant. The community was open to everyone – Exotic, Human, Damaged, Uplifted, Mutant, it mattered not. All that mattered was whoever joined contributed to the welfare of the whole.

“Yes, and I was hoping –“ Ra’naa started to say when the tiny woman let her go and handed her a bundle. “Uh, thanks?”

Momma Rathbourne smiled. “Tell Otres to come visit me, will you?”

“I will, but you know he doesn’t like being around us. He barely can stand to be near other Uplifted, from what I’ve been told.”

The elfin woman only nodded, her smile never fading. “Just pass it on, please?” She nodded with her chin at the bundle. “Consider that payment for the food.”

“As you wish, momma,” Ra’naa said. She placed the bundle down on the nearest surface and shrugged out of her rucksack. Moments later the bundle was secured and she placed it on her back. “Thanks, momma.”

“You’re welcome, Ra’naa.” She patted the younger woman on the arm. Her hand was warm and calloused, indicating years of hard physical activity. “Now you scoot! The day is growing longer and you don’t want to be around the shoreline after dark.”

Ra’naa bent and kissed the tiny woman on the cheek. “I’ll stop by once I’m done and let you know what he thought of your treats.”

Momma Rathbourne waved a dismissive hand. “He’ll love them. He always does.” With that, she turned and returned to her work.

Ra’naa stepped back out into the sunlight. She was about to close the door when Momma Rathbourne’s voice rang out clear. “I packed enough for you as well, so enjoy!”

She smiled. “Thank you, momma. You’re always so good to me.”

The older woman laughed and Ra’naa closed the door. She set off on a brisk pace. She considered going to the stables, but it was too beautiful a day and she really needed the exercise. She always maintained a strict regiment of physical activity during the cold months, a trait she had inherited from her father. She knew she was in better physical condition than many of the guards, who patrolled and protected the community from predators. Still, Ra’naa thought she had slacked off over the past few months and she wanted to get back into her usual routine.

Before long, the small community was behind her. The air was pleasantly warm and filled with the scent of growth and life. She loved the smell and breathed in deeply, closing her eyes and luxuriating in the feel of the sun beating down upon her. A small bunch of woodland flowers had recently bloomed. Ra’naa knelt and ran her fingertips over the petals, marvelling at how soft they felt. She lowered her face to breathe in the scent. Spring had truly arrived at long last.  She picked several of the larger flowers and wove them into her golden locks as she continued down the path.

Life was so good!

“It was the night before, when all through the world, no words, no dreams. Then one day a writer by a fire imagined all of Gaia, took a journey into a child-mans heart. A painter on the shore imagined all the world within a snowflake on his palm. Unframed by poetry a canvas of awe, planet Earth falling back into the stars.” She paused and smiled as she listened to the tune playing in her head, waiting for her queue to continue. It did not take long.

“I am the voice of Never-Never-Land, the innocence, the dreams of every man. I am the empty crib of Peter Pan, a soaring kite against the blue, blue sky. Every chimney, every moonlit sight. I am the story that will read you real, every memory that you hold dear.” Her voice rang out as pure as cut crystal as she walked.

 

***

 

Three and a half hours later Ra’naa found the remains of an ancient highway. The long cracked and all-but impassable ribbon of asphalt telling her she was only a few hundred yards from her destination. Well before she discovered the highway she could hear the sound of waves crashing upon the shoreline. She could smell the clean scent of the ocean, mingled with the less pleasant but equally welcome odor of decaying seaweed and plant-life. She knew she was close to Otres home.

That is unless the little Uplifted creature had moved. No one had come to see if he was still around after the last of the snows had melted. She was not worried; the little creature had been around as long as she could remember. He was a survivor and he knew the lands around his home as well as she knew hers.

Carefully she stepped over the broken and twisted remains of the highway. She had to be careful, as one misstep could cost her a broken ankle or worse. It would be such an inconvenience if that were to occur.

On the west side of the highway, she discerned the ocean about fifty meters below and nearly two hundred out. The trees had thinned enough so she could easily see the azure blue of the Pacific Ocean from here. The surface waves were choppy, and she could see whitecaps here and there, although there was little wind where she was.

Ra’naa stopped and took in her surroundings. The trail she followed from her home was an ancient logging road, long since overgrown by nature. It still was the easiest, not to mention the safest way to reach the community. She looked to the north and allowed her eyes to drink in every detail.

There! She knew she was in the right location. An ancient hover-truck lay on its side in the ditch. It was all but obscured by hundreds of years of clinging growth. Anyone who did not know what to look for would easily mistake it as a pile of rocks or other such detritus.

A smile crossed her face and she began the descent towards the shore. In only a few minutes she was walking along the rock and flotsam covered beach. Otres often changed his home when the tides washed out his old dwelling, but he never strayed far from this location. The breeze was much stronger along the beach. It ruffled her long hair, causing it to become disarrayed. The flowers she had put in her hair disappeared along the shore. She frowned, but then shrugged. She could always pick more on the way home.

“Otres, it’s me, Ra’naa Ahteen!” She called aloud. He could be anywhere and if he was deep inside his home, there was a chance that he might be incapable of hearing her summons over the wind. She knew better, though. Being an Uplifted had granted the little creature other senses. If he did not know she was there, it would not be long before he sensed her presence.

Ra’naa looked about her. Several hundred years had passed since the last nuke, the last anti-matter weapon and the last of the bioweapons had been spent. Despite the centuries, the beach was still home to the secrets the ocean gave up. Scraps of metal, bits of cloth, even plastic containers littered the ground here and there. She could see the white of bones and smell the familiar scent of decaying fish and kelp. It was not an unpleasant scent to her. It reminded her of growing up and spending many days wandering the shore with her father. They would alternately fish or hunt for the crustaceans she enjoyed so much, while looking for useful castaways from the ancient days.

There was one exceptionally large log. The ancient fathers alone knew how long it had been at sea before finally coming to rest along this particular section of the coast. The last time she had come here, it had not been there. She had no idea what sort of tree it had originally been, but it looked sturdy enough. Her legs and feet were feeling slightly sore after the long trek, so she placed her rucksack on the ground and sat down.

Ra’naa pulled the sniper rifle from her shoulder and made sure the weapon was safe before she leaned it up against the log. The wind tugged at her clothing and she shivered, despite the sun still being high overhead. How she longed to strip off her clothing and go swimming. It was still a little too early in the season for that. Maybe in another month, six weeks tops, she could do so comfortably.

“Otres,” she called out again, this time louder. She loved to sing and the gods had given her a beautiful voice. She knew how to project her voice so it carried on the winds or could overcome louder noise. Only ten minutes had passed, but she was nowhere near beginning to worry about Otres. Sometimes it took as much as thirty minutes before the diminutive Uplift made his appearance.

There was a soft querying chirp from behind her. Ra’naa knew the little Uplifted had finally arrived. She turned slowly and kept her hands to her sides. Though she knew Otres quite well, she also knew how skittish he was. Sure enough, she saw him sitting on a small pile of wave-smoothed stones.

Otres sat there on his haunches, sniffing the air curiously. He waved one of his forepaws in the air, an unmistakeable greeting. She felt the feather-light touch of his mind. Hello, Ra’naa. It’s been too long.

“Hi, Otres. I know. Then again it has been a long winter. You look well!”

I stored enough food over the cold time to survive, but I’m not as young as I used to be.

Anyone seeing Otres would never guess he was an Uplifted. He was long and sleek, like the rest of the members of his kind. Otters had been very common along the coastline well before the final wars had begun. The species had been in danger of extinction nearly seven hundred years ago. Thankfully, careful management had saved the Otters and brought them back from the brink.

The only aspect of Otres that set him apart from other wild Otters was his size. He was almost one hundred and twenty centimeters in height. That and he was an Uplifted. The little creature was more intelligent than most of the Humans and Exotics she knew.

That was not the only difference, however. He could communicate telepathically and through some unknown psionic mutation; repair any item she brought to him. He had attempted to explain it to her, saying how he did not repair the item, so much as reversed time around it. By doing so he could bring it back to a point in time where the item was in pristine condition.  Ra’naa did not understand how it worked, but there was no refuting the results.

What have you brought for me today?

She hefted the rucksack and opened it. She withdrew the package of sugar cookies and cinnamon buns. She slowly stood and made her way over to the Uplifted Otter and handed it to him. The little Otter breathed in the scent and closed his eyes in pleasure. From momma Rathbourne?

“Of course,” Ra’naa answered. “She also told me to ask you to come by and visit her. She misses you.”

Otres opened the package and grabbed one of the sugar cookies. He sniffed it and took a very dainty bite. He chewed for a handful of seconds before swallowing and taking a second bite. I could grow old and fat eating her cooking.

Ra’naa laughed. “You and the entire community!”

The little Uplifted Otter held out the container, offering Ra’naa some of the treats. Though she knew that momma Rathbourne had made some extra for her, she did not have the heart to tell Otres. She took one of the smallest sugar cookies she could see. “Thank you.”

They ate their cookies in silence for about a minute. Otres looked up at her with his big, liquid brown eyes. His whiskers twitched and he let out a curious squeak. What have you brought for me to repair?

Once again she reached out and picked up the rucksack. “We found an ancient cache of firearms. I was able to repair most of the weapons, but these were too badly corroded.” She reached in and pulled out the first weapon she touched. As it turned out it had started out as a heavy calibre pistol, probably chambered to fire .45 or larger round. The elements had been cruel and entire sections of the weapon was corroded to the point that touching caused it to crumble.

Otres stuffed another sugar cookie into his mouth as he took the heavily damaged weapon from her. He held it up and examined it, making little sounds of pleasure as he chewed. Simple enough, are all the weapons in this same state?

Ra’naa nodded. “Yes, and we are probably going to need them soon.”

He chirped curiously. Are the Damaged becoming aggressive once again?

“No,” she wrung her hands nervously. “It’s the Purists.”

The little Uplifted Otter made a face, as if he had just eaten a rancid crab. He stuck out his tongue and spat, growling. How long has this been going on?

“We got word from a small caravan of traders just as we returned to our summer homes.”

A white light infused the badly corroded pistol and as she watched, the corrosion began to fall away. The areas that had been ruined by time and the elements filled in with undamaged metal. Components which had long since been lost to damage or time suddenly re-appeared.  Before Ra’naa knew it, the weapon looked the way it had the day it came off the assembly line.

Ortes handed the weapon back to her. Ra’naa examined the pistol, feeling its weight in her hand. She liked its heft, as if the weapon had been specifically designed for her and her alone. After test-firing it, she might keep it for herself. “Thanks!”

I would like something else.

The scaled flesh between her brows furrowed. This was not something she had expected. “Like what? Name your price.” Whenever Otres had repaired weapons and other items for her community, the price had always been food. The little Uplifted Otter fed well off the bounty the Pacific Ocean provided, but he had a taste for sweets and bread. This was the first time he had ever asked for anything else.

I would like to come home with you.

The request stunned her so much she stumbled back and fell flat on her rump. “You would?” She raised her hand to her mouth. “I mean, I know the community would love to have you with us, but why now?”

He chittered and squeaked for a moment, one of his paws resting on his chin. It was such a human gesture Ra’naa nearly laughed. I have seen too many Purists over the years, and I’ve seen what they do when they catch anyone who isn’t a human.

Ra’naa shuddered. The thought of being killed because she was not part of a specific genotype disturbed her soul-deep. Although she and her father were part of the Exotic genotype, they were still pure human. Somewhere down their ancestral bloodline, one of their ancient family members decided they were not content with being a simple human.

Back in the decades leading up to the final wars, genetic engineering was extremely common. A person could go and have their physical body permanently altered as easily as one went to get a haircut. It all came down to how much money someone wanted to spend. One of her ancestors obsession with Dragonkind, and had altered their DNA to give them Dragon-like features. The genes bred true, so the genetic traits passed down from parent to parent. Strangely enough however, the only way they could breed true was to have sex with another of their genotype, or an un-altered human.

Purists however, they did not see that. When those monsters spotted an Exotic, they more often than not would kill them on sight. What they did to Damaged and other obvious mutants was something she did not like to think about. Their hatred was not confined to altered humankind alone. Uplifted were targeted as well.

She sighed and rubbed her hands together. Ra’naa was not sure if she was feeling cold from the wind blowing across the beach, or the fear thinking about the Purists caused. “Of course I will take you back with me. How much time do you need to prepare?”

The little uplifted Otter bobbed his head up and down and clapped his forepaws together. He squeaked in delight. Thank you! I don’t have much; it will only take me a few minutes to gather it up.

“Do you want any help?” Ra’naa offered, holding out her hands to the little Otter.

He shook his head and chirped. A second later he dropped to all fours and scampered off.

Ra’naa sat down with a sigh and looked at the barely-touched offering. She was starting to feel a little peckish, despite having eaten one of the cookies. She knew better than to take the treats. Despite momma Rathbourne saying part of it was for her. If Otres wanted to share any of the rest, he would.

It was closing in on late afternoon and Ra’naa figured they would make it back to the community with time to spare. She would not have to wait with Otres as he repaired the weapons – he could finish that when they returned home.

Idly she brushed her right hand through her mussed blond hair and tried to force it back in place. After about thirty seconds, she gave up and blew out a puff of frustrated air. There was no way she could tame her hair, not with the wind blowing along the coastline. She sighed and placed her hands on her knees. Ra’naa stared out to sea, not really seeing anything. She was relaxed and feeling quite content.

At first, she dismissed the sound as nothing. It was possibly background noise from the treeline directly behind her. After about fifteen seconds had passed, she realized something was amiss. The sound grew louder and was coming from the South and East. She stood up and placed her hands over her eyes in help shade them from the sun. She could not see anything, though the sound was clearly coming towards her.

You hear it too?

Ra’naa did not know where Otres happened to be, so she did not bother replying aloud. Yes, she thought. Do you have any idea what it might be?

No, I’ve never heard anything like it before. Maybe you should get to the treeline and find some cover.

That’s a damn good idea, Ra’naa thought back as she stood and reached for her rifle and rucksack. She turned and was running for the treeline when the roaring, shrieking sound reached its crescendo. Whatever was making the ungodly sound was right on top of her!

Ra’naa could not help it. She looked up into the sky and gasped in both terror and wonder. A flying machine, easily fifteen meters long and shaped like a raptor roared overhead. It had to be at least a hundred meters in the air, but she could easily make out the details. The machine was in dire-straights. Flames were gushing from the rear, leaving a long trail of thick, black smoke. She could see heavy damage on the exterior of the machine, and she realized that it must have been in a recent battle. In seconds, it passed out of sight, disappearing almost due North. The sound was still nearly overpowering, but it was fading as fast as it arrived.

“What the hell was that?” She blurted out loud. She stood there, staring off in the direction the strange machine had travelled. The beautiful cloudless cobalt-blue sky marred by the thick black trail of smoke the machine had left in its wake.

I have no idea, Otres said into her thoughts. Could it have been one of the thinking metals?

She shook her head. She had heard of the strange devices created by the ancients, machines that could think and act on their own. Despite her nearly three decades of life, she had never seen one of the mythical constructs. Still, what she had witnessed did not strike her as one of the thinking metals. It was more like a vehicle, an airplane or maybe a spaceship her father had told her about. No, I don’t. I think we should get back to the community as quickly as we can. My dad needs to hear about this.

Ra’naa nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt the little paw tug at her pant-leg. She barely managed to stifle a scream when she looked down. Otres was there, a small pink backpack strapped to his slender back. Despite him startling her as he had, she could make out the strange white cat’s face with a pink bow-tie on its head. “Otres don’t sneak up on me like that!”

The little Uplifted Otter squeaked what had to be an apology, but she could have sworn he had a smile on his whiskered face. Sorry, Ra’naa. Can we go?

“Yeah, let’s get going. The sooner I tell dad about this, the better.” She knelt and gathered up the treats and carefully bundled them. She glanced up at the still-visible trail of black smoke. “I just hope it doesn’t crash anywhere near the resort island.”

Otres nodded. You and me both.

As they turned to make their way back to the community, she noticed a large plume of black smoke rising above the treeline. It was a lot closer than she had figured, maybe a dozen, twenty kilometers at the most.

She cursed rather colorfully. “I think the machine did land at the resort.”

Otres squeaked in dismay. Do we go and investigate or go meet your father?

“I’m not sure…”

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.