First Day : Our First Home
Deering said the hastily organized recon teams spotted some caves in a high ridge line only two or three 'klicks'(mil-speak for kilometers), away from the tunnel exit. Zandora mentioned the caves would be in sight from the top of a nearby ridge line... if it was not raining so hard. The way to the caves had also been fairly direct, but due to now-flooded ravines, we had to travel at least an additional five miles, or eight 'klicks', to reach the ridge line where the caves were located. Despite the heavy rain, and a couple of belly-deep creeks that we had no choice about fording, which had been dry ravines only fifteen minutes earlier, the hike to the caves was not all that difficult. Jay and Melissa, riding on my back, did not seem to be bothered by the rain any more then anyone else was, but the thunder, and a nearby lightning strike terrified them, as their claws digging into my back attested. Gawd, they had damn sharp claws! Nor was the nearby lightning strike a pleasant experience for the rest of us, and drove home the fact we were in danger of getting more then just wet. Our fur did not soak up water like a sponge, but it also did not shed water like a duck's feathers either. By the time we got to the caves, we were all pretty thoroughly soaked, but we found shaking ourselves like a wet dog proved to be an easy and surprisingly effective way of ridding our fur of most of its excess water.
Arriving at the new caves we found Folson, with Di Vargin's assistance, already had things pretty well organized at what was to be our new home. I was surprised by how many people thought to collect fire wood as they moved from the cavern to our new home. Over a cord of dry wood had been gathered, and they even managed to get a couple of fires going. Looking around at the people gathered around the two small fires quietly talking and watching the children, and at the ones busy exploring the dozen or more tunnels leading from the 'first' room, I felt a lot more confident about our survival.
After an initial quick inspection of the surrounding tunnels and caves, without anyone falling into some 'bottomless' pit in the lightless tunnels, everyone made themselves comfortable in the first big chamber of the 'main' tunnel. Most people gathered around a dozen low fires scattered around the big tunnel-like chamber, fires made more for light then warmth, and quietly talked among themselves. I was still amazed at how calm everyone was about what has happened to us so far. I got together with Deering, Di Vargin, Folson, and anyone else who thought they might have something to contribute to our initial planning session. The meeting went very well, all thing considered, although Di Vargin and Deering had a hard time talking to each other without yelling or name calling, but at least they did not seem as ready to start clawing each other's fur out. Our new home turned out to be a large cavern complex of chambers and interconnected tunnels with a half dozen large, and several dozens smaller entrances. There was plenty of room for everyone in our new home, the upper caves were dry, yet well ventilated, with clean fresh water flowing through several lower tunnels.
The actual thunderstorm lasted about two hours, then it continued raining for another hour after the thunder and lightning died away, and by the time the rain stopped, a rough plan had been worked out. Reconnaissance teams, consisting of six members each, would range far from our cave shelters in five to six day survey sweeps. At the same time, each day, a dozen or more three to eight member hunter-gathering teams would forage less then half a day from the cave. People remaining in and around the caves will take care of the children, and work on various community crafts and projects such as basket weaving, flint chipping, etc. A couple people were even going to build a ceramics kiln, since we decided it was a bit premature to think of building any metal smelting furnaces before locating any ore or a source of a good fuel like coal.
In addition to hunting large and small game, and gathering edible vegetables, fruits, and grains, the hunter-gatherers would also be collecting anything else which might be useful. This would include 'weavable' plant fibers, flint or obsidian nodules, pottery clays, and other building materials. Over time as we learned more about our surroundings, the hunter-gatherers will go farther and farther afield to lighten the load on local resources, possibly spending days at a time away from the main camp.
As I promised Di Vargin, I passed on what I had learned about Chakats, and explained why several of us thought we were most likely Chakats. As I expected, several people, including both Deering and Di Vargin, thought I was more then a little 'off the deep end'. Di Vargin said in her typically sarcastic way, “How can you seriously believe, and expect us to believe, that who ever did this to us would used a, a pure fantasy creature created by an obviously warped mind as a template!?”
I once again went over all of the features we had in common with what I had learned about Chakats, then added, “Chakats may have been just a fantasy, but as far as I've been able to ascertain, there is nothing I have learned about Chakats which is not consistent with our present form. Given this fact, I do not find it so unlikely a physically superior creature as Chakats seem to be would be used as a general guide, as a template, for our transformation. By the way, I don't understand why you describe the person who created a fantasy creature like Chakats in such detail as having an 'obviously warped mind'. Although I will agree he, and probably his friends, do have rather interesting imaginations.”
Deering looking like she would rather do anything then agree with Di Vargin about anything said, “I also find the idea totally fantastic that whoever was able to do this to us would choose to transform us into something based on a little known purely fantasy creature from some internet game.”
I nodded in agreement and said, “Yesss! So do I! But that is apparently what has happened. I find that fact to be rather interesting, as well as the fact they also apparently fucked up when they kidnapped over twice as many people then they originally intended.”
“What? How the hell did you arrive at that conclusion!?” Di Vargin demanded.
At the same time Deering also demanded, “What the hell makes you think the ones who did this to us made any mistakes?”
I said, “Oh, well. It seems pretty clear to me. Only those people who were originally scheduled to be on that flight were supposed to end up here. That means the passengers who were on the plane when it landed, including the fight crew and attendants, as well as doctor Di Vargin and the people with him, people the plane specifically landed to pick up, were the intended subjects of this experiment.”
Di Vargin muttered something derogatory. I gave her a nasty look and said, “You asked me a question, which I am answering, so you will be silent 'til I finish. If I ask anyone a question, I will be civil enough to allow them to finish speaking, and I don't just expect the same courtesy, I demand it.”
Di Vargin looked really pissed, but she kept her muttering to herself as I resumed speaking, “As I was saying, when I first boarded the plane I noticed how the people already on the plane was scattered all over the available seats, usually seated alone or at most in pairs. This is not the way airlines normally seat their passengers. This was not noticed by the flight crew or attendants since none of them, with only one exception, had ever worked for any other airline. Most had only been on one or two prior flights.”
Looking to Folson I asked, “This is accurate as far as your crew's experience is concerned, isn't it First Pilot Folson?”
Folson nodded saying, “Yeah, as far as I know. At least as far as the crew who is still here is concerned.”
“What do you mean, 'still here'? Are you saying some people are missing?” Deering demanded.
Folson replied, “Yes, the flight engineer, three attendants, and four passengers are missing.”
I asked, “Did you happen to notice if the engineer and the three attendants had anything in common? General appearance, mannerisms. . . accent?”
She looked thoughtful for a couple of seconds before saying, “Their accents. Yeah, the engineer and at least one of the attendants had the same odd accent. I'm not as positive, but I'm pretty sure the other two missing attendants had the same accent.”
One of the former attendants spoke up, “Yeah, all three of the ones not here had the same accent. They said they were from the same place the engineer was from. They also said they had the same accent because they all learned English from the same instructor in school.”
Deering asked, “Did they say where they were from?”
The former attendant got a thoughtful look, which changed to surprise as she said, “Ah, no, not that I can remember. It didn't seem like they were actually avoiding saying where they were from, but I guess they could have been.”
I nodded and said, “If we do some more investigating, I'll bet the missing passengers will turn out to have the same accent. I'll also bet they had something to do with making the travel arrangements for the 'chosen ones'.”
Glaring at Di Vargin suspiciously, Deering asked me, “If you are right, and I'm far from convinced that you are, then why were Di Vargin and his people and the other passengers selected? And why these particular people?”
“Well, I don't know why they wanted to kidnap a couple of hundred people and transform then into what we are now. I suspect it's some kind of sociological or psychological experiment, but I really have no idea why they'd do such a thing.”
“They, they, they!? Who are these mysterious 'they' you keep referring to?” Di Vargin demanded.
“I don't know who 'they' are,” I replied, “I assume 'they' are non-human aliens of some kind. I am pretty damn sure 'they' are not human.”
Before Di Vargin could ask, Deering asked, “Why are you so sure our abductors are not human?”
I shrugged and said, “Well, our abductors could be human, from some future time were humans have developed a rather different set of moral and ethical standards, otherwise our abductors are definitely non-human aliens. I believe this, because I have no doubt at all that any group of 'modern-day' humans who was willing to go the trouble, risk and expense of kidnapping a plane load of carefully selected people for some grand social experiment would not hesitate to eliminate any 'undesirables' from their selected group of experimental subjects.”
A black-maned individual with a black, tan and cream tabby patterned coat asked, “Why do you reject the idea of The Lord God being responsible for our transformation?”
“I do not,” I replied, “in fact I'm quite willing to accept The Creator is ultimately responsible for our transformation for reasons known only to The Creator. But, I totally reject any suggestion The Creator took a direct 'hand' in our transformation.”
She then asked, “Then you accept our transformation as the will of God?”
Someone, one of Di Vargin's people I think, interrupted before I could reply, and said in a voice dripping contempt, “What does this superstitious nonsense have to do with our current situation? You surely are not trying to say GOD turned us into a bunch of freaks!”
The tabby's ears lay back as her eyes took on a distinct threatening look. More then a few others who heard the comment about 'superstitious nonsense' reacted in the same way.
Before someone else said something really stupid that could very well lead to a possibly bloody riot, I raised my voice as I said, “In reply to Tabby's question. . . Ah, I hope you don't mind if I call you Tabby? I mean no disrespect, but the name just seems to fit your present appearance.”
'Tabby' gave me a puzzled look before she realized I was referring to her. Then she gave a small wry smile and said, “Yeah, I guess Tabby is a more descriptive name then my, given name.”
I continued, “Well, to answer your question. Yes, I have no trouble accepting our transformation as the will of The Creator. But, If I am ever in a position to do so, I intend to do whatever I can hurt the 'tools' who kidnapped and transformed me against my will.”
Looking toward the oaf whose ill-considered words and insulting tone of voice nearly started a fight, I said, “I want to make something very clear. It is not your views and opinion of 'superstitious nonsense' I object to. You may hold whatever views and opinions on any subject you choose to hold. But, I will hurt anyone who should ever talk to me again in such a insulting and condescending manner as you just did. I will not, nor do I expect anyone, to tolerate such disrespectful treatment. Do you understand what I am telling you?” Without waiting for a reply, I looked a Di Vargin and added, “Does everyone understand what I am saying? I really hope there will be no cause for anyone to have to take violent exception to such totally unnecessary disrespectful treatment.”
After a long pause I said, “Okay, enough on this subject. I have no doubt our great-grandchildren will be arguing about who, why, how, and whatever about what has happened to us. Assuming they believe the fantastic story of how their great-grandparents used to be weird single-sexed furless bipeds who woke up in a cave after being transformed into, whatever we eventually decide to call ourselves.”
There was a few chuckles, and even a couple of laughs at this, then I continued, “I've asked some people to make a survey to discover what skills and expertise our group possesses, if you think you have any kind of skills or special knowledge that may prove useful tell the surveyors about them. You don't have to be an expert in something, simple casual knowledge or skills will still be valuable.”
Meetings and general discussions continued throughout the rest of the day. Everyone seemed to have something to say, or at least had the chance to have their say. I noticed a tendency for the people to form groups much like the four groups on the plane, but with the help of May, Katherine, Zandora and a few others I did what I could to ensure such groups did not solidify into exclusive cliques.
By sunset I had gotten tired of repeatedly answering different variations of basically the same three or four dozen questions. Also by that time, Jay, Melissa, in fact all of the 'cubs' less then twelve years old had totally exhausted themselves and were sound asleep. And, of course they had also exhausted their parents as well as the adults and near adults who had done their best to keep the hyperactive 'cubs' out of trouble. It was obvious the children had no trouble at all accepting their transformation. In fact, several made it very clear they never wanted to go back to having 'just' two legs and no fur or tail.
I remember seeing two obviously pregnant women boarding the plane, but I was a bit surprised when Katherine told me there are six, and maybe as many as eleven expectant mothers in the group. Before they had been transformed, one of the six had been due in less then a week, while the others had been due at about four, six, eleven, sixteen, and twenty-three weeks. Three of them were still obviously pregnant, and three were not so obviously pregnant, but exactly when they were due now was not so apparent. Five others did not know for sure if they were pregnant, but they believed they were.
There was also three really adorable newborn 'cubs', one less then three days old, one about eight days old and a third two weeks old. They looked like typical fluffy furry feline cubs, except for having six limbs, two pair of chubby grasping hands, and notably bigger skulls then similar sized feline cubs. Like all newborn cubs, the eyes of the youngest cub was shut, but the two older cubs had their eyes opened and they were a lot more active. At this young age the cub's arms are more like a third pair of legs then arms, and with her eyes open the two weeks old cub is able to get around on her six stubby 'legs' surprisingly well. She was not quite strong or coordinated enough to lift herself up off her belly but she could crawl around as fast as an eight or nine month old human infant. If she continued to develop physically as fast as she seemed to have done at two weeks, then in a very few more weeks her mother was going to have to keep a very close eye on her.
Well after sunset, Katherine plopped down beside me with a weary sigh and reported, “Well, I'm happy to report we're pretty well off as far as medical personnel is concerned. In addition to Jason and Paula, we have two EMTs, four RNs, one GP, and one dentist. I even found a certified midwife and a Hong Kong Chinese herbalist who also claims to be an instructor of acupuncture. Of course everyone except Jason, Paula and myself have virtually no experience with anything except human patients, but their basic medical knowledge will still be extremely valuable.”
I nodded and said, “Good. It's good to know we have people who can treat more then scrapes, bruises, the occasional fracture, and of course assisting in delivering cubs. Speaking of cubs, I noticed you spent a lot of time with them. I assume that's why you seem a bit ragged.”
Katherine grunted and said, “Those kids must be nuclear powered. If we continue letting these kids get away with the wildness they displayed today, I'm afraid I won't have to wait long before I get an opportunity to do a dissection. There is a lot we really need to know about ourselves that can only be learned that way, but that is something I'd like to avoid doing as long as possible, especially for a child. We are going to have find a way to control the youngest children; they have no more self-restraint or caution then human children their age, nor are they any more intelligent, but they are a hell of a lot more physically developed and active. Unless we do something really quick, our first casualty will be one of the younger children.”
“That would be unfortunate.” I agreed, then asked, “Uh, I assume even the youngest children are at least as intelligent as puppies or kittens?”
With noticeable hesitation, she said, “Well yes, in a way, but, at that age intelligence really doesn't correlate between species like that. A human infant's brain is really much less developed in several critical areas, primarily in motor control, than a canine or feline cub. But, our children are NOT human, and at less then two years old that can make a huge difference in their mental development. We will not only have to relearn everything about our physiology and physical development, we have to do the same thing for mental development.”
“We also have to do something about the cubs biting and clawing. If it wasn't for our fur, and tougher skin, I'd be looking for ways to do some stitching. As it is, I had to check out over a dozen minor puncture wounds, like this one.” Katherine said and showed me a bite mark on her wrist.
I looked at the two neat punctures in Katherine's wrist, and remembered how Melissa had chomped on her sister's tail as I asked, “Who did that?”
She rubbed her wrist as she replied, “One of the four or five year olds. I made the mistake of breaking up a squabble like I would if they were human children, instead of the fang and claw armed little wildcats they are now. Both reacted like very pissed-off cats. Have you got any idea how hard it is to hold one of those little 'darlings', without getting bit or clawed, when she is trying her best sink a claw or fang into you?”
“Ooww, sounds painful. . . ”, I paused then said, “Oh, well, the reason I was curious about the younger children's intelligence, was ahh, well, I was thinking, could we train them like you housebreak a young puppy or kitten?”
Katherine gave me a sour look then said after a long pause, “Yes, we probably could, and it would probably work. But, how are you going to get parents to treat their children the same way they'd treat a misbehaving puppy?”
I shrugged and said, “Oh, I don't know, yet. I am pretty sure however I decide to do it, it will be a lot easier after the parents have had to chase after their hyperactive cubs for a couple of days, and suffered a few nips. Don't you think so?”
Katherine chuckled and smiled as she said, “Oh yeah, it'll probably easier then, a lot easier.”
Katherine went on to describe what she had observed so far about our new bodies. She was fascinated by the younger cubs and was the reason she spent most of the day with them. She said, “You've notice how the newborn's arms are more like legs then arms? Well, as far as I can determine for all intents until a child is about six months old, the first set of limbs seem to be used almost exclusively as an extra pair of legs as the child moves around. Although, a child at this age will use her fore legs and paws as arms and hands to manipulate objects they don't seem to be able to do so except when they're not trying to walk around. Between six months and a year old a child seems to learn how to move around on just four legs, I guess this is analogous to a human child learning to walk instead of crawling. From that point on they walk and run on all six less and less until, I think, at about three or four years they're almost totally quadruped. Of course, this is just mostly just guesswork based on the few individuals I'm able to observe at this time. I'll need to observe the development from birth to adulthood of several individuals before I can gather enough data for an even half-way reliable development chart.”
As Katherine talked, I moved close and began giving her a back massage. After shi finished talking I continued my massage as I said, “It sounds like we're going to need to develop paper-making as soon as possible. We should preserve as much of the group's knowledge as we can. We should be able to come up with decent paper and writing materials before we develop metalworking.”
As I continued the massage and talking I first felt then heard a low rumbling sound. It took me a few seconds to realize it was the sound of a big cat purring. Katherine's eyes were half closed and she was purring just like a big contented cat. I continued rubbing and stroking the thick soft fur of her mid-shoulders and lower back as I leaned close as softly said, “You don't sound too upset with the way things have happened.”
Katherine, still purring, murmured sleepily, “No, I can't say I am. I was really beginning to feel my age, it hurt to get up in the morning, and by the end of the day, every day, I was so tired I passed out more then fell asleep. I was well known and respected in my field. I had accomplished almost everything I ever set out to do, and for the most part I had full rewarding life. But, I never had children. By the time I felt I had the time and got around to that part of my life, I discovered I had waited too long. I guess I could have, should have adopted, but, at the time I felt it wouldn't be the same. It would not have been the same as giving birth to my own children, but I would have at least known the joy of raising a child, of watching her grow and develop into a young woman I could call my daughter. I didn't realize what I threw away until it was too late for this too. Now, I am young again, and I have a chance to start over. This time I will not put off the important things in life. This time I will have a family. So, no, I have to say I'm quite pleased to be given a second life to live.”
She sleepily glanced around at me and asked, “How about you? Are you really so upset with what has happened to you?”
“No, not really. I've always thought cats were beautiful creatures, so I guess actually being one isn't so bad,” I admitted, “but I will never forget how this came about. I will never forgive whoever did this to me and everyone else. No matter how more scientifically and technically advanced our abductors are then us, we are NOT experimental animals, and if I'm ever able to hurt them I'll not hesitate to do so.”
I paused to bury my anger then nuzzled Katherine's cheek as I said, “Yes, even though I was kidnapped and then transformed without any choice in the matter, I have to admit I do like this form. I'm not only younger, I'm also stronger and faster then I ever was, and my senses are so much sharper. I especially love my fantastic new sense of smell. Mmmmm, you have such a nice scent.”
Katherine smiled and nuzzled me in return as she said, “Mmmm, so do you.”
I stretched and snuggled down with Katherine laying on one side and the furry ball of Jay and Melissa all snuggled close together on the other side. May was already sleeping on the other side of the two sleeping cubs and as I finally drifted off to sleep I wondered what I'd find when I woke up in the morning. Would I discover this was just a dream, or would I wake up as something else.
Day Two : Discoveries
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