Buck Who? Chapter 9

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 9: Homecoming

April, 24rd  2668, The Crash site, near Bowyer Island

Smoke hung low over the ground like a chilling fog, tendrils reaching like fingers to caress the myriad of bodies that lay unmoving, in death. The air was thick with the scent of burnt cordite, blood and bodily wastes. Though the sun had just crested the horizon, long shadows played across the battlefield, moving and twisting like the souls of the departed.

Bradly Travis had rarely felt as exhausted as he was at that moment. Sweat continued to pour down his face and body, causing his power armor suit-liner to cling to his body. He knew he stank as well, but no one would say anything. Those who had survived the night were all in a similar state.

The night had seemed to last forever, the darkness unleashing the terrors they never faced back at the compound. Everywhere he looked, he could see corpses of the various creatures that had tried to make a meal out of them. Along the western side of the ancient highway there had to be over a hundred Deep Dweller corpses. Already the various scavengers were among the dead, picking away at the choicest pieces of flesh, typically the eyes. The entire beach appeared to move with scuttling, scurrying vermin.

There was no way they could fend off another assault like the ones they had faced over the darkest hours. He was down to the last magazine for his handgun, and his assault rifle had long since run dry.

One of the surviving soldiers came up and saluted. Bradly returned the gesture and tried to hide the weariness he felt. “Report.”

“Sir, I’m glad to say we suffered not a single death over the night,” the man looked relieved and it carried in his tone. “But nearly all of us are wounded to some degree or another.”

Bradly could see it was true. The man had blood dripping from his nearly useless right arm, which appeared to have been torn open and broken. He had to admire the man’s stamina and courage, although when he looked into the soldier’s eyes, he could see the suppressed pain.

“Any word from the compound and my father?” Bradly asked.

The soldier shook his head. “Nothing so far, but I was kind of expecting this.”

He nodded. “Alright, get some food and water and try to rest. If they did not run into any trouble, the relief should be here within the next half hour or so.”

The soldier saluted again and then wandered off towards the disabled trucks. The wrecker they had brought with them had long since returned. All the wreckage of the fighter they could find was strapped to the bed of the vehicle. He had hoped there would have been enough room to hoist his Mercedes, but the remains of the fighter took up all available space.

Knowing if he sat down, he would pass out, Bradly pushed his back away from his blood and gore splattered hover-car and walked into the center of the clearing. All around were the corpses of the night-creatures who had tried to kill them. They were so many different species. Some were scavengers, others were predators, following the scavengers.

Most of the creatures were the size of a pre-fall German shepherd, and although some did bear a resemblance to canines, most did not. Some looked like multi-legged reptiles, while others had the appearance of massively tumour-laden and scarred rodents.

It was both amazing and horrifying how many species survived the final wars and were mutated by the toxins and radiation. He figured many of the creatures should not have survived birth, let alone long enough to reach this size.

He gingerly stepped among the mutilated corpses of the mutated monsters. Occasionally he saw a corpse he recognized, a mutant that still retained enough un-damaged genes to give an indication of what its ancestors were.

The battle they had fought over the night would not soon be forgotten. The crash of the fighter had drawn the attention of the Deep Dwellers and some Damaged. After they had been killed by the genetically inferior’s, the corpses began to draw the attention of scavengers. The smell of blood and fresh meat carried upon the wind, a literal dinner bell for those who could sense it. With the scavengers came the predators and the end result?

The carnage all around him and the near-destruction of his salvage crew. Bradly was glad his father had not been along for the mission as he had originally planned. He did not know what he would have done if his father had been among the casualties. He had nearly been killed numerous times – and that was before the animals had attacked!

His surviving soldiers were resting and rehydrating, something they all needed. A couple were in the middle of field-stripping their assault rifles to give them a much-needed cleaning. Bradly considered it as well, feeling the weight of the handgun in his fist.

At last he turned and began to backtrack his way through the carnage. He was passing the mottled and badly scarred corpse of a mutant Black Bear when there was a squeal. The sound was so chilling Bradly stopped dead in his tracks as a shiver of fear played along his spine. He tried to pinpoint the sound and automatically brought the handgun up in front of him, his finger already squeezing the trigger.

A second later there was a sickening sound of flesh parting and a spray of blood coated his legs and boots. The corpse of the mutant bear before him was shuddering, as if the monstrous creature was coming back to life. He pointed his pistol at the creature and fired a single shot into the head.

It had no effect. The monster continued to shudder as more blood exploded from its body. The squealing grew higher-pitched and was coming from the belly. Bradly moved his hand, pointing the barrel of the weapon at the squirming stomach. It was then he saw the long, jagged tears across the nearly hairless flesh and a small appendage with wicked claws. The limb was gripping at the side of the creature and pulling for all it was worth.

Feeling the bile rising in his throat, he squeezed the trigger, aiming the barrel where he figured the body of the creature might be. The heavy caliber round tore through the flesh as if it was nothing more than paper. The squealing abruptly ceased and the clawed limb went limp. Then the wound bulged forward and a slick, blood and mucus-coated form slid from the belly.

“What the fuck is that?!?” One of his soldiers cried in horror, seeing the mutant creature. It was the approximate size of a child around the age of four or five. It had the features and limbs of a bear, but the body was totally humanoid and devoid of any fur. The chest had a hole the size of his fist, and blood poured from it, slowing with each passing second.

“Fucking bear contracted the Uplift Virus,” Bradly spat on the now dead baby. “Fucking thing would have been almost as intelligent as a human if it was allowed to live.” He continued to examine the strange beast and realized it had been a male.

Feeling ill in both body and spirit, Bradly turned from the corpse. He took a single steep when he was suddenly overcome by a nearly irresistible urge to run. Bradly stopped and shook his head hard. His men stared at him in wonder and as quickly as the urge had hit him, it was gone.

What the hell? He thought and realized how tired and light headed he felt. It has to be exhaustion, that’s it.  Bradly stopped and turned slowly, allowing his eyes to crawl over each corpse on the ground. He stared intently at the bodies, looking for any tell-tale sign of possible life. It hit him then, it felt like some or something’s mind had touched his briefly. He had been subjected to such mental invasions by mutants in the past, and he was familiar with it.

Still, he could not detect any sign of life in the carnage. Already early season flies and smaller scavengers were cautiously approaching the corpses. If there had been something alive, surely the vermin would cause it to reveal itself…

He decided to leave it be. If he felt the touch a second time, then he would burn the entire area. There was enough fuel in the disabled vehicles for him to set the battlefield ablaze, although he would have to be careful. He did not want to start a wild-fire, although the likelihood of that was miniscule.

Finally Bradly shook off the feelings and returned to the Mercedes. He reached in and took a bottle of water, wishing he dared to drink the alcohol he stored in the vehicle. He certainly could use a stiff drink right now. His body craved - no desperately needed actual water. Maybe on the way home he would indulge his desire for something stronger.

The radio beeped and his hand shot out and he toggled the reply switch. “Bradly Travis here.”

 “Commander Travis, this is Corporal Justin Smith, we are less than five minutes out from your location,” replied the tinny voice over the speaker. “How was the night?”

Bradly ground his teeth, the memories of the horrible night still fresh and painful.  “It was not pleasant, believe me.  Did you bring enough wreckers and reinforcements?”

“Affirmative, sir,” the speaker replied. “Three additional wreckers and two full squads. We also brought fresh ammunition and a tech to go over your armor.”

Pausing, Bradly tilted his head and listened. It took a moment but he eventually caught the sound of the approaching vehicles. “I can hear you,” he said. “We’re waiting. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we just want to go home.”

***

Although Martin did his best to hide his feelings, Bradly knew the man well enough to see he was on the cusp of losing control. Their reunion had been brief and Martin took his son aside to get the full story of what had transpired.

On the upside, they had the wreckage of the fighter. The downside was they lost seven men, all of whom had been veterans of numerous battles against the genetically inferiors. That did not sit well with the older Travis, especially when he learned the attackers consisted of two women and a mutant Otter.

Two women, both genetically inferior man-beasts had caused so much damage. It drove both men nearly insane with anger. Women were nothing more than keepers and raisers of children and the home. The very thought that those two genetic freaks were able to best a squad of Purists was simply impossible to believe.

And yet it had happened.

“We need to put a positive spin on this,” Martin said at last.

Bradly stared at his father in disbelief. “How? A squad of our superior trained and armed soldiers were beaten by a couple of women!

“I’ll handle this; it’s all part of leadership. I thought after all this time you would have learned that,” Martin told his son. His tone was soft and held no reproach, but Bradly felt as if his father had struck him. He could not see how they were going to spin this, but maybe if he thought about it, he would come up with something. And if he did, he’d share it with his father and hopefully that would make the elder proud of him.

His men were wounded and exhausted. They had been fighting for their lives on and off throughout the nearly endless night. Ammunition was all but spent and they were all on the verge of collapse.

Martin had brought a medic with him and the man was quickly triaging the soldiers, taking care of the worst wounded first. Bradly had his share of bites, cuts and scrapes, but nothing was even close to life-threatening. His biggest worry was infection or disease he might get from the creatures. A tablet of universal antibiotics would take care of any such biological invaders, and once they were on the road he would be sure to take one.

While the medic tended to the various wounds, the soldiers and techs, which had accompanied Martin, went to work on the disabled vehicles. It only took a few minutes before the head tech ran over and saluted.

“Report,” Martin ordered.

“Sir, something has disabled the drive-shaft of both of the trucks. When I inspected the underside, it looked as if the drive-shafts had come from one of the ancient wrecks we sometimes bring in to turn into scrap.”

Martin and Bradly exchanged looks. “Any idea what could have caused that?”

The tech wiped sweat from his forehead and rubbed his eyes. He took a deep breath and blew it out through his nose. “If I had to guess, I would have said it was destroyer nanites.”

That revelation caused Martin to draw in a deep breath of shock. “Nanites? Shit! What are the chances of full infection?”

He shook his head. “None, by the looks of it. There is no sign of the grey goo that is typically left behind. It has me baffled; maybe it was a one shot type of nanotech.”

 Bradly blew out a sigh of relief. The nanotech undead were bad enough, but destroyers, they were in a whole different league of terror. He met and held the tech’s eyes. “Can you fix them out here?”

“No sir, they require a full bay. Need to jack them up and remove the entire shaft. It’s going to take days, even if we have the parts,” he shrugged helplessly. “If we don’t, maybe we can scavenge them or send a team into Seattle, Vancouver or Victoria.”

Martin was clearly not happy. “If you can’t get them fixed with the parts we have at home, then send a team to Scav’s Haven. They charge a lot, but at least we can trust the quality of the goods.”

The tech nodded. “I’ll give you a report once we’ve had a chance to check the stores at home.”

He cursed. “Alright, get them loaded onto the wreckers. I want to leave here as soon as possible.”

The soldier saluted crisply. “Yes sir, we should be ready to go in less than an hour.” He turned and instantly started shouting orders to his subordinates.

Bradly rubbed his grime-crusted chin, feeling the stubble growing there. The sooner he left the better. Even being close to the resort had turned out to be a nightmare of a different kind. Bradly leaned against the side of the Mercedes and crossed his arms, brooding. Anyone looking at him would have sworn they could see the dark thunderclouds gathering above his head. From the look on his face, no one wanted to disturb him.

***

Throughout the long night, the two figures remained on the ground, impassively watching and recording. Originally they had planned to leave the night before, but as they were packing up to go, the first of the Deep Dwellers had attacked.

After that, it got far more interesting. Although they were already over-budget, the records of the event would most likely make up for the loss. After all, even their kind needed entertainment, and the Purists certainly gave them a show.

It was nearly two hours past sunrise when the final disabled truck was loaded onto the back of a wrecker and the convoy pulled out. Sinine carefully packed away the digital recorder and secured the precious device. She turned to her equally bland companion. “Against animals and primitives, they tend to handle themselves quite well.”

“Indeed,” Dafore nodded in agreement. “I am intrigued however, how well will they do against armed resistance? If their performance yesterday was any indication, their training is sub-standard at best.”

During the night, several of the nocturnal predators had stumbled across their path. They were armed for a fight, but the creatures quickly deduced they were not potential sources of nourishment or threats and left.

The Purists were a different matter. Not only were they potential food, but the soldiers killed many other animals and left a literal banquet for scavengers and predators. The more the Purists killed, the more it attracted all manner of creature.

Sinine shrugged her shoulders, not caring either way. “They’re leaving; I do believe it is time we return to base as well.”

Dafore nodded once and climbed to his feet. He adjusted the sling of the long rifle he carried, ensuring if he needed the device, he could draw it quickly. Without a look back at the carnage wrought by the Purists, the two strangers began their long trek home.

***

At long last the sounds finally disappeared. The little creature lay utterly still inside the ruined womb of her mother. Although not quite due to enter the world, if fate had otherwise decreed, she would have remained with her twin for another week. Of course, she had no concept of time, only it was too early to leave.

And yet, she had no choice. Already the body of her mother had cooled to the point it was becoming hazardous to her survival, and she realized this on a fundamental level. After all, she was still far too young to form comprehensive thoughts. The instinct to survive was strong, it was something passed down from her mother and she wanted to survive.

Inside the cooling dampness, the little creature stirred and squirmed. Tiny plaintive mewlings could be heard coming from the inside the mutant bear’s carcase, causing many heads to turn and regard it.  Some of the ears perked up and salvia began to flow in fanged mouths, anticipation of fresh meat and blood stirring the hunger. Others ignored it, knowing it was of no consequence as it was not that of a predator.

Fear flowed through the little creature and she clamped her fully formed hands around her mouth to stifle the sounds. The fear gave way to anger, at knowing something had ended her mother and twin’s life, though she could not yet fully comprehend either. Needle-sharp claws slid from beneath the fingertips, coming fully extended, looking to claw and tear. She regarded the strangeness of the claws before her, unseeing and yet seeing in the blackness that engulfed her.

The anger began to fade, replaced once again by fear as she could hear something snuffling and grunting on the outside her mother’s dead body. The section of flesh, which her twin had torn open to escape, was being tugged and pulled. She did not know what to do, fear warring with anger over the invasion of her domain.

Light, the first light she had ever witnessed, suddenly pieced the perfect blackness. She wanted to scream in pain as it overloaded her un-used optic nerves, but as before, instinct prevailed and she kept quiet. Nature provided her with many defenses and these defenses gave the young female a chance to survive. One of the defenses automatically kicked in, the biological imperative having been met. Unseen inner lids closed over her optic nerves, shielding her from the brightness, but allowing her to see.

A long snout, filled with crooked and jagged teeth, slipped through the opening in her mother’s belly, seeking out the delicate entrails and organs. She fought back the urge to hiss and snarl, instead remaining perfectly still, least the predator or scavenger detect her and strike.

Delicately, the snout found a bit of organ and bit carefully into it. The snout jerked back out of the dead mother’s body, pulling its prize with it. Soon the snout would return and with it, her death.

Without knowing how or why, the little female unsheathed her claws a second time and she felt a subtle shift occur in her nearly formed body. She had no idea what was happening, but her naked skin tingled and her gums began to hurt terribly.

 Pain, pain was something she had never experienced, except when the connection to her mother and twin was separated. Then it had been a brief, sharp explosion of light which had threatened to consume her, but this had lasted but a moment.

The pain she was feeling now was something new, and she found it was not all that unpleasant a sensation. She somehow knew she should not feel like she did, but instead of fighting it, she welcomed it.

Outside her mother’s body, she could hear the snuffling sound replaced by a low growl. The growls were returned in kind and then there were sharp snaps and yips, howls of rage mingled with pain and a warning.

It was time for her to make her escape. She felt her tiny legs coil beneath her body and she reached out with her hands, claws extended. She gripped the inside of her mother’s belly, near where the snout had entered to steal a tasty morsel.

There was a loud, nearly ear-shattering cry of pain from just outside. The entire carcase, which had once been her mother, shook violently and she nearly lost her grip. It was now or never.

With a tiny, strangled growl of her own, she used all her strength to pull open the sides of her mother and forcibly ejected her body into the world. The brightness, the terrible cold, the strange scents which suddenly filled her nostrils nearly cost the young cub her life. She hesitated for only a second, overwhelmed by the strange sensations, when sudden movement brought her back to the real world.

Instinct took over and although she was only seconds old into the world, she reacted. The little cub had no idea what the creature was, as she had never experienced the outside. It was larger than her, much, much larger and was all fur, tooth and claws. As her young and still-forming mind took this in, she deftly dodged beneath the swipe, which was intended to smash her into the earth.

The creature roared in frustration. In a fraction of a second, she was up and running on her legs, heading towards the strange growths she would later learn were trees. The animal instinct which drove her actions told her she would be safe there, as long as she could hide. Of course these were not words, only concepts to her, but they were clear enough. The growth meant life, stay here or be too slow, meant join her twin and mother in death.

She knew she wanted to live, to experience the world, but only by speed and instinct, would she do so.

Howls, snarls and even chirps erupted from the gathered creatures that had come to partake in the feast of flesh, blood and bone. Many of the creatures fought one another for the choicest morsels, while others stayed on the periphery, waiting for to grab a corpse. The sudden movement and attack of the predator sent many of the creatures into flight, fearing for their lives.

She would never have made it, although fate decided to intervene. The predator chasing her was within striking distance and had opened its jaw to bite, when another predator pounced. The second predator took the first’s intrusion into its territory as a challenge.

A challenge gleefully accepted.

As the two predators raged, bit and clawed, the young cub kept running for her life. She instinctively dodged from side to side, never staying in a straight line for more than a second or two.

Before she realized it, she was in the embrace of the forest and the undergrowth. Still, she did not slow down, though her never-used legs and lungs burned with exertion. She could hear the creatures continuing to fight, and even made out the sound of pursuit.  The little cub was far from safe.

Ahead, she could make out the remains of a tree, long ago struck down by lightning, half-concealed by the underbrush. A myriad of flowering plants had taken root and some were just now sprouting the first early season buds.

She launched her tiny frame at the log and slammed into a hole, barely large enough to accommodate her frame. There was a roar followed by tremendous impact, which threatened to cause the entire log to collapse in upon it. All around her strange scents and sensations assaulted her, threatening to overwhelm her young mind.

It could not be helped, she screamed. It was a cross between a human cry and an animal’s whimper, a strange combination which sounded alien, even to her ears. If anything, the predator redoubled its efforts to get at her. Claws like long, tapered daggers slid through the rotted wood with ease, ripping away nearly the whole top of the log.

Fear continued to bubble and boil inside and she knew, not in words but images and concepts, she was about to die. The will to survive grew a thousand-fold in that moment and she took all the raw, naked terror she felt and pushed it outwards. Her target was the predator, which could clearly see her now.

At that very second, the predator backed away, its seven eyes going wide with a horror it could not comprehend. It let out a scream of its own, one of primal fear so intense it nearly caused the beast’s multiple hearts to stop. The air was filled with the pungent odor of urine and feces as it relieved its body. In one motion, the creature turned on its six, misshapen limbs and ran off into the forest.

The little cub lay there, stinking of blood, embryonic fluids and its own waste, shaking, but free of the fear she had been under. She stared out after the predator in wonder, unable to comprehend what had just occurred, but thankful to be alive.

***

April, 23rd  2668 The Community, just before midnight.

Declan stared at the man who had entered his room with disbelieving eyes. It could not be - the general should have been dead for at least three hundred years. There he was, however, standing in home-spun clothing and looking for all the world like a throwback to the medieval times. He even had a large knife strapped to his hip.

The man stared at him impassively, if his statement had caused the man any discomfort, it did not show on his face. “I haven’t gone by that title in many years,” he finally broke the silence as he stood at the foot of Declan’s bed. “Do I know you?”

“Holy shit Doc, it IS Ahteen!” Babs practically shouted, causing Declan to wince.

Declan nodded his head and then shook it, confused. “We met before. I was your pilot. I took you from the carrier Defiant down to the Milankovic base on Mars. You were there to relieve the current commander who...”

Max held up a hand, the long ago memories brought back to the forefront of his mind. “Right, I remember, but I don’t remember meeting you.”

“I’m not surprised, I’m just a lowly Lieutenant,” Declan shrugged his shoulders, knowing it was the truth.

Ra’naa, Tara and even Otres stared at the man, mouths agape in disbelief. “Dad?” Ra’naa asked, her voice filled with both wonder and disbelief.

He turned to look at his daughter and a slight smile creased his face. “Just one of the advantages of being a Dragon Exotic,” he chuckled. “We live a long, long time.”

Everyone in the room was silent, and then as if someone had dropped a bomb, Tara, Ra’naa and Declan all began speaking at once. Otres stood next to Ra’naa, looking up at the larger Exotics, his eyes wide as they spoke. Their voices grew louder and louder, each trying to outdo the others in an attempt to be heard.

Max Ahteen put up with it for nearly a minute before he raised his hands and shouted in his best drill Sargent’s voice. “Enough!”

The room went silent. Otres was so startled by his shout; he dropped to all fours and cowered behind Ra’naa’s legs.

He composed his face and rubbed the base of one horn, his eyes half-closed. “Hell, I barely remember any of that,” he conceded. “There are so many events I forgot. That was…” he closed his eyes and tried to dredge up the long-lost memory. “That was about a month or so before the battle of LaGrange two.”

Declan’s eyebrows furrowed and he narrowed his eyes. “For you, that was centuries ago, but for me, that was only a few weeks back,” he looked thoughtful. “I don’t recall that fight.”

“Thirty-three days, seven hours and twenty-one minutes, if you want to be exact, Doc.” Babs informed him helpfully.

Yeah, add nearly three hundred and thirty years to that total, Declan thought silently. He did not his – what? Hosts? Captors? To know about the AI that resided in his internal biological hard-drive. For now he would keep that secret.

Max nodded. “Right, and weren’t you involved in that battle?” He looked troubled. “Or should I say slaughters?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Declan admitted. He then began to outline the events which had led up to the ambush, how his fellow pilots had died in droves. He explained what he figured had disabled his ship, using details provided by Babs.”

Max Ahteen held up a hand to silence the pilot. “So you were lost during the battle of LaGrange two,” he nodded, the memory of the fight coming back. “Our forces were ambushed by the ChiFed’s, using tech they had obtained from the Annunaki.”

Finally having relaxed, Otres slunk out from behind Ra’naa’s legs. He was standing at his full height of just over a meter and was staring, openly fascinated, at Declan.

“How many survived the battle?” Declan wanted to know. So did Babs for that matter.

Max looked pained and he blew out his cheeks. “Less than ten percent. Those who did survive were taken captive by the ChiFeds and were eventually repatriated to our side, but that was about a year later.”

Declan shook his head sadly. Less than ten percent. One out of ten pilots and crew survived the battle. That was not a battle – that was a slaughter.

“Sorry Doc, I lost a lot of friends too.”

Declan only nodded. Seeing that Max was finished, he finally had a chance to describe the events which occurred on the island.

Everyone, including Max Ahteen, backed away from him as if he was contagious. “We have to issue quarantine, and right away!” Max barked, the fear shining brightly in his eyes.”

It was Tara who broke the spell. “If he was infected, we would have known by now,” She said in as calming a voice as she could. The way her tail twitched was a clear indication she was still nervous. “He would have turned at least twelve hours ago. I think his flight-suit protected him from possible exposure, and his little swim would have destroyed any nanites clinging to him.”

Max nodded, feeling embarrassed for his sudden panic. They all knew the story of the resort, as well as the horrors nanotech could inflict upon the world. His body relaxed and the agitated swing of his tail ceased.

Otres finally built up the nerve to come right up to the bed. Since Declan was sitting, propped up with pillows, they were almost able to look eye to eye.

The pilot looked a little surprised at seeing the Otter, but he smiled. “Hey little fella, what’s your name?” He spoke in a slightly sing-song voice, the kind of voice most people use when speaking to a pet.

I’m Otres, and it’s a real pleasure to meet you! Otres projected and squeaked in delight.

A look of confusion came over Declan’s emaciated face and then he burst out laughing. “Oh my god, you sound just like a squeak toy!”

I’m not a god-damned toy! Otres projected loudly and bared his teeth before sticking out his tongue and blowing a raspberry at the prone pilot.

Declan continued to laugh, his mirth growing to near hysterics. Even Babs was laughing in his mind. “He’s adorable!” She told him.

And like someone hitting a switch, he sobered. “Wait, wait, wait, wait. How can I hear you speak and yet you are squeaking?”

I am telepathic, and it’s the only way I can really communicate with people, Otres explained. You can hear my thoughts, and I can hear yours.

“Shit doc, do you think he can hear me?” Babs blurted, a tinge of fear in her tone. “I can hear him when he speaks to you, but that’s because I’m directly linked to your brain!”

Declan continued to grin and waited for Otres to react, but when the little Uplift did not respond, he figured she was safe.

What? Haven’t you ever seen a telepathic Otter before?

“In all honesty? No. I knew of Uplifts before I went into cryogenic suspension, but never really saw any.”

I would love to hear your stories, but under one condition…

“What is that?”

Never call me a squeak toy again!

He felt his face redden as he tried to keep from laughing, and Babs just made it all that more difficult as she replayed Otres’s squeaks several times. God-dammit, stop it Babs! It took a supreme effort of will, but finally he was able to speak without laughing. “It’s a deal, Otres.”

The little Uplift bobbed his head up and down, chittering happily.

Max cleared his throat and was about to speak when Declan held up one hand. Despite the smile on his face, the pilot was looking tired, very tired. “Sir, I have a couple of requests.”

Max tilted his head to the side and regarded him. “What is it?”

“I’m really hungry! I haven’t had anything to eat in over three hundred years.”

That caused everyone to laugh slightly. Otres squeaked in delight, but somehow Declan kept from laughing. Max looked over at Tara and nodded. “Go see what you can round up for him.”

She nodded, grabbed hold of Ra’naa’s shoulder and gave her an affectionate squeeze and then left the room.

Before she was able to leave, Max called out. “Tara!”

The tiger-woman stopped in her tracks and looked back. “Max?”

“What you learned here tonight,” he said clearly, taking in each person and the Otter. “About me being a General before the final wars ended… that is NOT to leave this room. I’m not kidding. No one is to know about this, not your friends, not your lover,” he gave a pointed look at Tara, “Not a soul. Am I perfectly clear on this matter?”

A chorus of yes’s reached him.

He nodded, knowing at least the Uplift, his daughter and her best friend would not say anything. “Thank you.”

Tara nodded and then left the room.

When she was gone, Max returned his full attention to Declan. “You had another request?”

He nodded and tried to get more comfortable, still aware he was naked. He could not shake the feeling he could be brought up on charges for being out of uniform in front of a General.

“Are you kidding?” Babs laughed in his mind. “Look at him, no uniform, Doc, he doesn’t even have proper civvies. He’s not going to charge you.”

Declan ignored his AI companion. “Yes sir,” he was going to continue when Max Ahteen held up his hand.

“Listen, Declan,” he began, his voice sounding hard. “That is long past. The NorRuCom no longer exists. There is no official government anywhere, except for some isolated communities like this one,” he waved at the window. “No one here has a clue how old I am, nor do any of them know about the military.”

“Sir?” Declan interrupted.

“Oh, not a good idea, Doc.” Babs interjected. “Never interrupt a General!”

“I meant what I said. You are to forget that I was a General. You will address me by Mr. Ahteen or Max when we’re in public. You are never to mention anything about the past that involves me,” Max leaned down until his face was only centimeters from Declan’s. “Am I perfectly clear on this?” For some reason the threat was directed right at him. He knew the man did not trust him.

Declan nodded and swallowed a lump of fear. “Alright, Max. Anything you say.”

Ra’naa knew her father had a temper, and could use his Charisma to sway and lead. She had seen it used often her entire life. This, however, was something new and unexpected. She could never recall hearing such hostility and the hint of a threat as she had.  Ra’naa did not like it, but she had to accept it. He was her father, after all.

Max actually smiled. “Very good, Declan.” He backed away to give the man on the bed his personal space. “You had a request?”

Feeling both ashamed and angered by the unspoken threat, Declan nearly told him to fuck off. Still he knew it would not be a good idea, and decided to toss all military protocol out the window. If that is what the general wanted, that is what he would get. “Sure, Max. Could someone explain to me what happened after I was lost?” He waved one arm at the window. “I mean, I saw the mutants, I have heard you talking, the world was nearly destroyed, wasn’t it?”

Slowly Max Ahteen nodded his head. His eyes were hooded as his mind raced back along the centuries to the last days of the civilization he had once known. In his eyes he could see the weapons launched from space. The weapons fired from hidden platforms and stations, hidden by alien technology purchased in blood and souls. He had been responsible for countless millions of lives, having issued the orders for retaliatory strikes against the ChiFeds.

Three hundred plus years later, it still ate at his heart like a cancer, but one that killed the soul, not the body. When he looked at Declan, his eyes were bright with pain. “You have no idea. Many parts of the world were rendered uninhabitable, permanently uninhabitable. Others will recover eventually, but the damage was done. Radiation and worse has poisoned our planet, but she is recovering.

Declan wanted to know more, needed to know more. Even Babs wanted to learn what had transpired, although she remained silent. “Max, come on, tell me. If I’m stuck here, I want to know. I fully expected to learn everyone I had ever known was long since dead.”

That caused Max to grimace slightly, feeling pain of loss many times over renewed, wounds long since closed opened to fester once again. He looked at his daughter, his only child and it was a balm to sooth his pain. He fought to supress the emotions threatening to overwhelm him and he blew out a breath he had not realized he was holding. “Alright, here is what I know and I will bring you up to date as best I can.”

It was well after three in the AM by the time he was finished speaking. Tara had returned with a bounty consisting of fresh bread, meat, and even some deep-fried vegetables and plenty of water. She quickly took leave, saying she was tired and needed to get some sleep.

Otres never left, knowing he had no place to go, and was more than content to sit and listen to Max Ahteen spin his tale.   

Ra’naa likewise stayed and listened as her father spoke. She knew most of what he was telling the pilot, but after learning how old he was, the stories took on a whole new meaning. A lot of what he was saying he personally had witnessed over the centuries. It was fascinating.

Finally though, as her father was nearly finished she too left, after giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. Otres was reluctant to follow, but the little Otter had to admit he was really tired.

At last it was just the two of them, refugees from another time and world. They stared at each other for long, uncounted minutes before Declan finally broke the silence.

"That’s a hell of a story,” he had to admit, running his hands through his hair.

“Yeah, it is.”

Declan yawned, feeling exhausted. He was deeply troubled and knew it would only be a matter of time before the shock of his predicament settled in and something happened. When, he did not know, maybe later in the day, maybe in a few weeks. He shuddered when he thought of what was about to happen. “I need some sleep, and I need to think about what you told me.”

Max Ahteen stood and stretched. “If you need anything, just go to the door. We have a few people who are here twenty-four hours a day. Sleep as much as you need, and I’ll make sure you have all the food you can eat,” he waved a hand over Declan’s wasted body. “I figure in a week or so of high-protein food, you should be back to normal.”

“Yeah, I can feel the banites hard at work even now. I’m already hungry,” Declan admitted, rubbing his stomach through the blanket.

“Amazing little creatures, aren’t they?” Max half-smiled. “At least some of the nanotech proved to be good for tasks other than pure terror and destruction,” he walked over to the door. “I’ll get one of the night-staff to bring you something to eat.”

Declan nodded and then realized speaking would probably be a better idea. “Thanks, Max.”

Max Ahteen left the room and closed the door behind him.

***

Ra’naa led Otres the stables. She had a promise to keep.  When she entered the stable, Zeus was standing in his stall, his eyes open. He nickered softly as he saw her.

Ra’naa smiled. “There’s my beautiful boy,”

Otres bobbed up and down as he scanned the stables. Most of the Brutes were asleep, standing on their feet, snoring softly. The big male Zeus, however, was awake and alert. The Brute gazed over at him and nodded a greeting, which Otres returned with a wave and a squeak.

She quickly found the locker, which stored the oats and other treats, and she grabbed a bucket. She filled it to the brim and then for good measure added a heaping serving of raw sugar and several dried vegetables. Ra’naa knew exactly what Zeus liked.

The Brute was nearly drooling in anticipation as she brought it over to him and held it up. He sniffed it and she could have sworn he nearly groaned in anticipation before bobbing his head up and down in thanks. For such a massive creature, he was dainty when he ate, not a single crumb or morsel escaping his mouth.

As he enjoyed his treat, she stroked the side of his head, gazing into his contented eyes. “I told you I would be here, sorry it took so long.”

If Zeus was upset or annoyed, it did not show.

She waited patiently until he was finished and then returned the bucket. By the time she turned and looked back, Zeus’s eyes were closed and the Brute was breathing slow and steady, already asleep.

 The night had grown very cold, but the sky remained clear and the light from the moon and the aurora borealis was more than enough for them to see by. The only other people they saw as they made their way from the stables were a single four-man patrol. They nodded politely as they passed on foot, never giving her a second glance.

She could have had a room inside the lodge, but instead maintained a small cabin near to the ancient structure. Ra’naa loved her father very much, but he could be so dotting towards her and she really did like her privacy. The small building was completely dark, and it was quite chilly when she entered, the heat of the day having long since dissipated.

“We’re here,” she said quietly and held open the door for Otres.

He did not hesitate; instead he entered quickly and took in the sight of the cabin. It was dark, but he could see well enough. His nose twitched as the scents filling the small cabin gently caressed his senses.

It was about ten meters long by half that wide. From what he could see there were two doors, one he and Ra’naa had just entered and another off to his left, near the far wall. It was comfortably furnished, with a large bed suspended from the ceiling near the right corner. There were soft rugs made of animal fur strewn about the rough wooden floors.

“Home sweet home,” Ra’naa sighed tiredly. She closed the door behind Otres and then grabbed an oil-lamp sitting on a small table near the entrance. There was a sound of flint on steel and then a warm, red glow suffused the entryway. “You can put your pack on the table,” she pointed at a two meter long by one meter wide table located near the center of the cabin. There were two benches, constructed from logs, on either side of the table.

Otres scampered over to the table and placed his pink pack with the cartoon cat on the table. He continued to look around the room, seeing there were other pieces of furniture, all constructed from logs or driftwood. The craftsmanship was breath-taking and though he did not use furniture, he could see quality when he looked at it.

Ra’naa crossed over to a large fireplace, located along the far wall. She knelt and used a small branch to take some of the flame from the lantern and in a minute there was a fire, blazing merrily.

He knew it was cold in the cabin, but thanks to his fur and layers of fat, he was comfortable. I like your home.

“Thanks, Otres,” she smiled, but her face was worn and tired. “I hope you will be comfortable while you stay with me.”

I will be, but I won’t lie, I hope your father will allow me to stay in the pond.

For only a second she looked crestfallen, but she hid it quickly and hid it well. ”That’s up to dad.”

Otres scampered around the room, taking in more of the sights and scents. There were plants everywhere. He recognized many flowering plants, but it was still too early in the season for them to come into bloom. The windows had simple drapes covering them, and although he did not realize it, the room was distinctly feminine. You like plants.

“I find they brighten up any room they are in. And I love the way growing things smell.” She said as she pulled off her jacket and carefully hung it on a rung near the fireplace.

There was a simple writing desk along the right wall, and a large shelf filled with all manner of pre-fall books. On the opposite side of the cabin, there was a pot-bellied stove and a series of cupboards. Several dishes and mugs were carefully stored on a shelf next to the cupboards.

He stood on his hind legs and tilted his head, this way and that. There were pictures of animals covering the walls, all of them hand-drawn and showing an artistry that was so beautiful, it was nearly life-like. He recognized many of the animals that lived in the forests and along the shores, including Elk, deer, bear and other creatures.

Those are remarkable, he commented as he pointed out the nearest picture, one of a deer, caught in the moment before it bolted.

“Thank you!” She beamed as she pulled off her boots and placed them on the floor, next to the second door.

He looked at her, surprised. You did these?

“Yes,” she crossed the room and stood next to the hanging bed. Reaching down, she grabbed her shirt and peeled it off revealing the crude bra she wore underneath. She folded the garment and then placed it on a small stand next to the bed. “I’ve always loved to draw, one of my passions that has helped me stay sane during the long winter months.”

Otres dropped to all fours and scampered over to where she was standing. He looked at the fire, blazing merrily in the fireplace and sighed, enjoying the warmth radiating as the flames danced and frolicked. You are a woman of many talents, he confessed. And you can sing!

She laughed as she stripped out of her pants. She stood there clad only in her undergarments as she folded the pants and then put them on the stand. “Thanks again.” Unabashedly, she removed the remaining garments and stood there, naked. “You’re full of complements, aren’t you?”

He bobbed his head up and down and waved his paws in the air. I only speak the truth. He squeaked and then looked at the rug near the fireplace. That looks comfortable, I think I’ll sleep there.

“Oh,” Ra’naa said, looking suddenly crestfallen. She placed her tail and then her rear on the edge of the hanging bed. “I was hoping you would sleep with me.”

Otres regarded the young woman his eyes wide with confusion. Sleep with you? We’re not even the same species!

“What, wait, hold on!” She blurted out, and then began to laugh. “Not sleep as in sex! I just thought you would be more comfortable with me, that’s all!”

If an Otter could blush, he knew he would be. Are you sure? I’ve never slept with anyone before. Maybe you would be more comfortable with me on the floor?

She pulled her legs up and then held out her arms, inviting him. “Get over here, silly. We’re both tired and I’m sure we will sleep quite well.”

He nodded and squeaked and then came over. She helped him climb into the bed, covered in a mixture of furs and pre-fall bedding. It was very soft and felt unlike anything he had ever experienced. It felt wonderful!

She lay on her side and patted the bedding next to her. “Lay with me,” she invited.

Otres came over and stretched out on his back, suddenly feeling more exhausted than he had expected. It was nice! He twisted his head from side to side and then noticed something he had missed earlier. She had several small stuffed animals laying on the bed near the foot. One was a bear, the other was a cat, and one looked suspiciously like an Otter.

Ra’naa followed his gaze and chuckled. “I like soft and furry things to sleep with, I have ever since I was a little girl. Somethings never change.”

You’re a strange one, that’s for sure, he said lightly in her mind, not mocking but with a gentle tease. Much to his surprise, she placed one arm over him and pulled him until he was touching her naked skin. It really felt strange, but he found it comforting as well.

In minutes, both were sound asleep.

***

The dreams were strange and more than a little disturbing. He replayed the battle that led to his cryonic suspension time and again, and yet more often than not, he saw his ship destroyed, his body blown to molecules. It caused his heart to race and he sat up with a jolt. Declan realized it was not his heart he had heard, but something else.

It came as a bit of a jolt when he discovered he had fallen asleep, until he heard a light rapping at the door. When he opened his eyes he realized the candle had burned out and the room was bathed in darkness. Still, he figured it had to be the meal Max had said he would send up. “Come in,” he called out lightly.

The door opened and he instantly recognized the form of Tara, silhouetted against the light from the hall. She was carrying a tray and she used her leg to close the door behind her as she entered.  

His stomach rumbled and he sat up, still feeling exhausted, but the food he had consumed had made one hell of a difference. He figured thanks to his banites, he would be eating like a pig for the next few days. The biological nanites would use every gram of food to repair the damage and neglect from so long in cryonic suspension.

Tara sat the plate of food on the nightstand and sat down on the bed. “How are you feeling?”

He shrugged and rubbed his eyes, trying to get the gritty feeling out of them. “Okay, I guess. I need a lot of sleep and food if I am going to recover from the ordeal.”

She stared at him, and in the darkness, Declan realized her eyes glowed ever so slightly. He was watching as she bent in closer, so their eyes were only a dozen or so centimeters apart. “You said you were hungry, I brought you plenty of food.”

He nodded and then indicated the burnt-out candle. “Mind lighting that?”

Her hand reached out and caressed his cheek. It was very gentle and her fingers, although calloused from years of hard physical labor, were still soft and warm. “I saw your reaction earlier.”

Declan swallowed hard, feeling embarrassment, but at the same time he was excited. He had been with plenty of girls over the years, but he had never sampled an Exotic. And with the way he was feeling, it would be a perfect distraction. He laughed quietly. “Yeah, god-damn thing has a mind of its own.”

“Then let’s do something about it,” Tara said huskily and stood. He could feel the bed shift as her weight left it and there was a rustling of cloth. A second later, the blankets lifted off his naked body and the weight returned. Although he could not see her, he nearly yelped when her hand reached and began to stroke him.

He was fully erect in mere moments and the sensation was something he had not felt in a long, long time.

“You go, Doc!” Cheered Babs from deep inside his mind. “Damn what a ladies man! You only met her a few hours ago and she’s going to fuck you blind!”

I hope not blind, Declan thought as he closed his eyes and reached out.

His hand met her fur-covered body and she was nearly scalding to the touch. The fur was very short and had a silkiness to it he found very erotic. As she continued to slowly play her hand up and down, he allowed his hand to trace her shoulder. He followed her curves until he found one of the magnificent breasts. The nipple was already rock-hard and she gasped slightly as he cupped her weight, feeling it in his hand.

Her weight shifted once again and he lost contact with the breast. He quickly found her again and marvelled at how firm her body was, as his hand ran over the roundness of her rump. Knowing the female body as intimately as he did, he sought her out and was amazed at the heat and wetness that greeted him.

As he slid his fingers into her, she moaned slightly and took him in her mouth.

She licked his shaft, her tongue moving with madding slowness. Declan fought to keep from climaxing, not wanting it to end. He did not know the woman, and her straightforwardness was both frightening and refreshing all at once.

And there she was.

In his mind’s eye he could see the woman he had made love to so many times while in suspension. At least, he could see her body, but her face remained in shadow as she ground her hips against his, slowly building to her own climax.

It was too much.

“Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad,” he groaned as she slid up and down, using her lips and tongue in conjunction with her hand. He tried to return her pleasure with his hand, but it was all he could do to just to breath.

“Wait, slow…”

She ignored him and worked faster, her lips wrapped harder and when he released, she did not pull away like so many women had. Instead, she continued to work, drinking every last drop.

As he spent himself, the woman in his mind likewise climaxed, her whole body shivering as the orgasm washed over her. She threw her head back and cried out in pleasure, but even then, her face remained hidden to him.

“Holy shit!” He finally exclaimed.

“Damn, Doc, that was fast!” Babs laughed. “I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, if I was human and hadn’t gotten laid in three hundred years, I probably would have come just as soon.”

Was it his imagination, or did the sound of Bab’s voice in his mind have an eerie resemblance to that of the woman he fantasied about? He decided to ignore it, as Tara finally pulled her mouth off him. She was not finished though, as she licked and sucked at the very tip, not letting a single bit of semen escape.

“I take it you enjoyed that?” She asked her face still down at his crotch. Absently, he continued to stroke her, feeling the wetness cover his hand. He pulled away and brought it up to his mouth, tasting her heat and muskiness.

“Yeah, I did,” he said, his voice somewhat weakened by the waves of pleasure she had sent him on.

“Do it again, Doc!” Babs encouraged.

He ignored her. “I, ah… you mind if I use my hands? I don’t think I’ll be ready for a bit.”

Instead of replying, she shifted her position and stretched out. She draped one leg over his allowing him to feel her. She pressed her breasts against his chest and held onto him, as she buried her face in his neck. Tara began to kiss the skin of his neck, just below the jawline. Her tongue flicked out and teased the flesh. At the same time she began to slide her sex up and down on his hip, soaking it.

“Okay, I guess we…” he began to say but she silenced him as she shifted yet again, this time straddling him. She covered his mouth with her own and kissed him hard, gently biting his tongue and lips. After nearly a minute of slow and gentled motions, rubbing her sex up and down his limpness, she finally pulled her mouth away.

Declan could feel her hands on his chest as she increased her motion. He could feel the slickness covering his member and running down between his thighs. The image of him having to change his bedding came into his mind and he heard Babs laugh.

“Its only fair,” she giggled, “you have to sleep in the wet spot for once!”

Tara’s movement became more insistent and faster. She pulled one hand from his chest and used it, rubbing herself as she rode him. Finally she threw her head back as her own climax came, although she did not scream out. Declan was grateful she had not, fearing it would have brought unwanted attention.

The orgasm went on and on, Tara’s whole body quivering in pleasure and just as he thought she was finished, another wave hit her. Each wave stronger than the last and after what seemed to be the twentieth time, she finally collapsed, panting like the cat she resembled. She lay her face on his chest and ran her hand up and down his side.

“Do you mind if I stay with you for the rest of the night?”

Declan found it hard to speak, his mouth was so dry, but he finally managed to get the words past his throat. “Not at all.”

She made love to him three more times before the first rays of dawn entered the room.