The Colony - Taurger by the Tale
Book 1 - I of the Taurger
Chapter 1 - ...and a Smile on the Face of the Taurger
By Wayne Cook (aka EarlWerks) © 2004
Set in The Colony by Verina Ducain
Based on Forest Tales by Bernard Doove
On a world that's not the Earth . . . in a stone cavern hollowed by water . . . among others of its kind . . . a chakat begins to awaken.
Hi. You're new, aren't you? Welcome to my little dream world. Wanna know what I do here?
I dream like this sometimes when I'm halfway between awake and asleep. It's like sitting in a room just kinda talking about things, or tellin' you what's been happening to me. But this is the first time I can remember talking to somebody "new". Don't even know how I know that, since I can't see you. Can't hear you either, but I'll know what you want to say anyway.
Is that somebody else back there?
Hmm? Sure, I'll tell you what I've been doing. I started the day by waking up . . .
He woke up slowly this time. Usually he'd wake up all at once, but sometimes it was slow like this. One sense at a time. When it happened this way he liked to pretend he was exploring, discovering a new world instead of waking up in the one he'd gone to sleep in. It made starting the day a little less boring.
This morning hearing arrived first -- voices. That made sense, as he'd been on a crowded jetliner. His memory rebelled at the notion -- he never slept in a moving vehicle. Had something happened?
Touch came second, starting with an odd feeling he sometimes got of being out of proportion. Usually it felt like his head was huge and his body was twisting impossibly and shriveling into nothing, but this was different. His head seemed wrong, especially his face, and his body was . . . well . . . bigger was the only word that seemed to fit. As if he could feel parts that weren't supposed to be there. And he wasn't in a cushioned airline seat, either. He was laying on his side on something that didn't give like a cushion. It didn't seem to give at all. Something had happened!
Two of the voices were louder now. He could understand what they were saying despite an unfamiliar accent.
"Is she awake yet?"
"I don't think so. I sneezed when I woke up."
"So did I." A pause. "Looks like a tiger, doesn't she?"
"Yeah. Even her fur's got that 'tiger' look. Kinda coarse, maybe. And look at her cheeks."
"Looks almost like a beard. Hey, I think she's the last one still asleep. Should we try to wake her?"
"I'll do it."
"Careful. She's huge. If you scare her . . ."
He could feel someone's hand push gently on his shoulder. *Got a couple of geniuses here,* he thought. *I'm the "she" they want to wake up?* He moved just a little so whomever it was would know he'd gotten the message, then he took a deep breath . . .
It was like the world came flooding into his mind thought his nose. Scents of unimagined variety entered and declared themselves. He could almost see them -- like colors -- and his brain tried to build a world around them. There were animals here, a lot of them, and all they same kind. *How do I know that from a smell?* There was dirt here, some freshly disturbed, probably as the animals moved around. Running water . . . birds . . . and as he identified each presence the sounds they made became more distinct then faded as he identified the next. And he felt on his head . . . *My ears are moving?* Wondering what he'd see he carefully opened his eyes.
He was looking up at two cat-people. Right out of one of the "furry" drawings he found on the Internet. Cat-girls to be specific. Feline head, fur-covered breasts, no clothes, legs . . . oh. Four legs. Feline centaur forms. Cattaurs. Then he saw the genital sheaths on their underside. *Not female, hermaphrodite. Are they chakats?* Whatever they were the two of them were standing over him, looking back.
"Are you okay?" the one on the left asked.
*That explains the accent,* he realized. A feline mouth, particularly with a carnivore's fangs, wouldn't be able to speak English the same way a human one could. He nodded in response to the question, then went cross-eyed. *My nose!*
Overlooked as always he finally noticed his nose. His glasses were missing, a fact that hadn't registered because he was seeing clearly. *Eyes changed, too* But his nose was white -- not just a Caucasian "pink" but a hairy white -- with black on each side of it . . . *I've got a muzzle!* He brought his hand to his face to feel this alteration and saw another white-furred replacement. The inference arrived immediately. *If I've got a muzzle and fur like them, then do I have . . .*
He twisted his head down to look at his chest as he propped himself up with one arm. He had them, too. Just like the chakats standing over him he had a well-formed, fur-covered and slightly large pair of what he sometimes heard called "chesticles" on morning talk radio. Turning slightly he looked over the rest of his body. He was a chakat. A white-furred, black-striped "white tiger" chakat.
"Is, uh, standing up going to be a problem?"
Heckofa thing to wake up to, I'll tell you.
What's a chakat? Well, imagine one of the big cats, like a cougar. Now add somebody in a skin-tight cougar mascot costume, like for a sports team. Take the upper half of the costume, from the belt up, and put it upright over the cougar's head to make something shaped like a centaur. That's kinda what they look like. But they can have any fur color and pattern a cat can have, probably more. Add in boobs, long hair on the head, a tail that can act like an tentacle, and a complete set of both male and female "parts" and you've pretty much got a chakat. Yeah, chakats are herms. Be pretty easy to call them "she" or "her" or "miss", but you're supposed to say "shi" (shay) and "hir" (herr) and "Shir" (cher).
Pat? You want to hear about Pat? I only met hir today.
You sure nobody else's in here?
Okay, Pat. I met hir as I was playing "lifeguard" during the evacuation to a place that wouldn't flood . . .
The thunderstorm was dumping water so fast the dry, thin soil couldn't absorb it all. The runoff reminded him of overfull street gutters, and that reminded him of stories about people being swept away by flash floods in the concrete "rivers" of Los Angeles. So when he saw water already trickling through a ravine they had to cross he knew there could be trouble. At the middle of the ravine bottom he took a step downstream and urged the others on. Almost immediately a very pretty chakat with black, brown and orange-red patches on white fur and a head of dark red head hair said to him, "C'mon, don't stop here."
"Go help up top," he told hir, motioning to the lip of the ravine. The patchwork chakat made to protest so he interrupted hir. "Help up top or watch for flash floods. I'll keep 'em moving here." When shi just looked at him he added, "I'm bigger th'n you. I can stand in deeper water -- play 'lifeguard'. When they start having trouble I can still get out on my own." "Patch" blinked at him so he said, "Go!" With that shi made hir way up the side of the ravine and out of sight.
He wasn't sure how long he stood in the rising water. Eventually he saw the others were having trouble making the crossing and he waved off anyone else from coming down. After boosting the last up and out he made the best leap he could from water now hip-deep and swift. He nearly didn't make it. Two other chakats -- one the patchwork who'd stopped earlier -- had to hoist him the rest of the way over the lip of the ravine.
Looking back he could see that those who hadn't made it across were being led upstream, presumably to a safer crossing point. On this side the evacuees were heading on through the rain. *Nobody's watching for stragglers?* he asked himself as he looked around. The term "herding cats" came to mind and he was worried. Then he noticed that despite their recent dunking and the developing rain, the others at this end of the line were not as soaked as he felt. His rough fur was heavy with water and plastered to his legs and belly.
"C'mon," the pretty patchwork chakat said, adding a gentle pull on his arm. "It's not much farther."
He tried to shake himself a little less waterlogged to poor effect. A few steps later he tried again. His patchwork companion noticed and urged him ahead, then headed off to a small stand of trees nearby. When shi came back a moment later shi held out an armful of fallen limbs and sticks. "Take 'em," shi said, "and I'll get more."
Fitting the load under his arm he asked, "What's this for?"
The wood-gatherer made a half-purr, half-grunt that sounded an awful lot like a chuckle and said, "We're going to build a fire and dry you out."
That was how I got drafted for draft duty. A bunch of them were picking up what they could find and bringing it to me. By the time we made it to the new cave I had such a load I was balancing it on my back from my withers to my rump and holding it not only with my arm but that tentacle of a tail I mentioned. And it didn't balance too well . . .
Following others into the new cavern they were directed off to one side, where a sizable pile of wood was being sorted and two chakats were breaking branches off a large limb that had been dragged in. While the other wood-bearers were able to just drop what they carried he was having trouble just keeping his load balanced. "Patch", who'd stayed with him since the ravine, reached up to lift off some of the stack but he shied away from hir.
"Let me help . . ." shi started.
"No," he told hir.
"If we take it off a little at a time . . ."
"But it'll fall . . ."
"It's going to fall anyway if you start poking at it." As if to prove his point the load began to tip. He barely kept it under control with "Patch" lending an apologetic assist. "Besides, it's wet. Just find me a spot to dump it."
With a little help to keep the stack on his back he was able to place himself side-on to a spot being vacated beside the woodpile. Then he leaned his load toward it slightly and let go. It landed with a crash. Some sticks clattered away but for the most part the back-breaking load stayed in one place. Relieved of the weight he stretched to get feeling back to his muscles and discovered pieces of bark clinging to his wet fur. He took a last look at what he'd been carrying (*That's a lotta wood*, he thought.) and stepped away to begin picking his fur clean. He was surprised by someone picking twigs from his back. *Lower back, or maybe barrel-back,* he corrected himself, remembering something from the Internet. His helper was the same patch-colored chakat who'd drafted him as wood carrier. Shi smiled at him and motioned to the fire started nearby. "C'mon, let's get you dried off."
As they headed for the fire shi introduced hirself. "I'm calling myself 'Pitty-Pat'," shi said, offering hir hand. He shook it automatically before giving hir a double-take as he realized what shi said. Shi made hir odd chuckle again and explained, "Well I'm not quite who I used to be, and I grew up with a calico that looked exactly like this. So I'm taking her name. How about you?"
He opened his mouth to answer automatically like he had all his life but stopped, suddenly realizing this was a chance to start over. Take a new name and just abandon all the problems he'd had with his life to date. Sure, a flight attendant had come around and taken his name but shi'd just been checking on who came from the plane, shi didn't know anything more. And he'd been traveling alone so nobody else knew even that much. This could be a clean break with the past. A completely new life! "Uh, give me a minute," he stammered, and brushed an errant lock of hair from his eyes.
Pitty-Pat gave him a puzzled look. "You don't remember?" shi asked.
"No. I mean yes, I remember," he tried to explain, "I just don't want to use that anymore. It's . . . uh . . ."
Pitty-Pat chuckled, and put hir hand on his withers, the point where his back went from horizontal to vertical. "You can have any name you want, now. Just pick a good one, tiger." Shi smiled at him, and without realizing it he grinned back.
"Well, you've picked an odd one. Any chance I could just call you 'Pat'?" he asked.
Shi stepped closer and slid hir hand so hir whole arm lay across his withers. "I'd like that," shi said.
Oblivious to hir gesture and proximity he considered possible names for himself as they approached the group around the fire. *I'm a tiger centaur. Centaur tiger. Tiger-taur . . .*
"Excuse us, pardon us, drowned cat to dry off" Pitty-Pat said as shi led him to a spot in the first circle around the fire. He sprawled out on the cave floor with a "splat" from his wet fur and tried to get more dangling hair away from his face. The fire was warm and felt good.
Someone said, "Hey, it's the ref!"
"Nah, she's just finished her show in Vegas," someone else quipped.
The jibe went past him unnoticed, as they usually did, but he was too tired to keep from correcting the speaker. Automatically he said, "Shi."
"Shay," he repeated, pronouncing the word carefully. "And herr."
"What are you talking about?" a sarcastic voice asked.
He took a breath and looked at the speaker. Shi had a black coat with white legs and tail and a white belly that came all the way up to cover hir muzzle and surround hir eyes making hir remind him of a vampire in a cape, and shi had an expression he'd seen all too often from office workers who were getting things explained to them by a "lowly tech". But he tried anyway. "We're chakats now. Chakats are herms -- hermaphrodites -- both male and female. We're not 'hes' and 'shes', we're 'shis'. And 'hir' instead of 'him' or 'her', and 'shir' -- 'cher' -- instead of 'sir' or 'maam' or 'mister' or anything else." *. . .and here I'm still thinking of myself as male,* he berated himself.
"Oh, so you know what happened to us, do you?"
He sighed. This was getting to be too much like having to explain to this month's new manager why the staff had been using a procedure for five years when he hadn't approved it yet. "What I know," he said, "is the planeload of us have been transformed and left here. Somebody called for Chakat Nine-Toes and Chakat . . . Oh, what was the other one?"
"Quicksilver," Pitty-Pat, who'd settled in beside him, offered.
"That's it," he agreed. "Anyway I've read what a chakat is on the Internet and it fits. And those are the words for chakats. 'Shi', 'hir', and 'shir'."
The black-caped chakat didn't concede hir position of assumed superiority. "I'm sure we're all grateful for your Internet-fed insights, but that's hardly proof of anything."
"Professor Van Peer . . ." someone began. Beside him Pitty-Pat made a face and tried not to laugh.
Van Peer raised a finger to silence the speaker. With an authoritative tone shi said, "I believe you will find that this situation will be more amenable to the rational opinions of experts than anything from an amateur. As I've said time and again the Internet should never be considered a research source, and appearance, no matter how comely, counts for nothing."
Tired and wet, he'd had enough, especially since he'd finally realized that this wasn't a staff meeting and he didn't answer to this pompous air-head. And he had just the pin to pop hir balloon with. "Oh, you can call us 'Floofies' for all I care," he said with a smile, "One name's as good as another right now. And if you want to stick with 'he' and 'she' go right ahead. Of course there are probably some who'd be kinda annoyed if you use the wrong gender for 'em, and with everybody having tits it's kinda hard to tell. Not to mention you'd look pretty silly calling someone with a rack 'sir'." He was getting some snickers from those around the fire now, including one of Pitty-Pat's chuckles, so he offered his bait and said, "But I'll make you a deal."
Van Peer, irritated at the laughter shi was certain was directed at hir, fell for it. "What deal?"
"I'll use whatever words you want for gender and species if you can give me an authoritative name for a body part I specify."
The smugness was immediately back in Van Peer's voice as shi accepted. "All right. What part?"
*Now to see if that guy on the Internet's right,* he thought. With one hand he reached across his body and pointed, saying, "This is a shoulder, right?"
"Yes," Van Peer said, quite willing to look at the impressive body of the creature speaking.
"And this," he said, reaching back to his hindquarters, "is a hip?"
Fidgeting slightly at the delay, Van Peer agreed again.
"So what's this?" And he pointed at the joint where his foreleg attached to his body.
Van Peer opened hir mouth to answer only to discover shi didn't know! Shi closed hir mouth and looked . . . and looked again, glancing at the three limbs on the side of the person challenging hir before focusing on the middle one again. *Don't get distracted, that's what the gestures over his . . . her . . . its body was supposed to do. It's well aware of its looks, and it's trying to use them against me. Now, this is a mammal, not an insect,* shi thought furiously, and desperate to end the uncomfortable silence said the first word that came to mind. "That's your hip."
"You said this was my hip," the white-coat countered, pointing back at that joint.
*Don't follow the hand! Think quadruped, not biped,* shi corrected herself. "Sorry, I meant shoulder."
"That's up here," and the black-striped white hand pointed again.
"It's . . ." shi began again. In the silence, as Van Peer struggled for a word, someone snorted as they suppressed a laugh. Van Peer's head move sharply, looking for the culprit. Hir aggrieved expression broke the restraint of others watching the confrontation. Shi quickly got up and stalked angrily away, trailing laughter from those who'd witnessed hir embarrassment.
"Score one for the tiger!" someone crowed.
"Taurger," he corrected quietly, tucking a stray lock of hair back over his ear.
From beside him Pat asked, "What did you say?"
He smiled at hir. "I've picked my name," he said. "Taurger."
Pitty-Pat smiled at him. "That's a good name." Shi started when thunder from the storm outside served as the gavel-bang to the decision.
And that was how I met Pat. And how I picked my name.
I don't go bar-hopping or anything so I've never met too many people outside of work and really don't know if this is a normal meeting or not. It's a first for me. Ya see, people have never "taken" to me too well. But here's Pat. We've just met and shi's already acting like shi's my best friend.
After that there were some introductions and talk, but I was pretty tired. So I went looking for a quiet place to sleep and Pat tagged along. Shi hung around after I found a nice "den" for myself, too. Scared of the thunder or something. Sure clung to me like it. Shi's got the makings of a real pest.
'Bout time for me to wake up now.
Coulda sworn we had somebody else here.
Ya know, I just realized . . . I'm still thinking of myself as male . . . Wonder when that's going to change . . . or if it ever will . . .
Taurger came fully awake. He felt the same as when he'd gone to sleep, still a chakat, still in his "den". But there was something different . . .
He turned his head and with the benefit of a chakat's night vision saw Pitty-Pat, hir head and shoulders laying across his body like he was hir pillow.
*Pest,* he thought, unaware of the smile on his face.
Chapter 2 - Taurger, Taurger, Burning Bright
This setting is © Verina Ducain.
Chakats are © Bernard Doove.
All characters and this story are © 2004 Wayne Cook.
Return to the
Forest Tales main page.
Follow the paws back to the Chakat's DenTM main page.