The Colony
V. Ducain

Chapter Ten
Mercy Mission
Another Interesting Discovery

That night, Katherine and I took a walk, and this time we made sure we were alone before we settled down to make love again.  Katherine said I had an excellent chance of becoming pregnant, something that I found amazing, exciting, and a little frightening.  I was a little surprised to realize how true it was when I reassured Katherine I really wanted to be a mother, as long as shi was my mate.  We settled into a small opening in the cliff face that was really too shallow to be considered a proper cave.  It was a nice out of the way spot where we would have privacy, and shelter from any sudden night rain.  After we made love several times, and explored the joys of Chakat oral sex, we fell asleep cuddled up together in our shallow cave.

Shortly after we fell asleep, we were roused as Jay and Melissa snuggled up against us.  “Well, at least this time the little scamps waited 'til we finished,” I thought as I drifted back to sleep. “Guess I should have known better than trying to find a private place. . . everyone has noses better than bloodhounds. . . heehee. . . bet the noise woulda led them here even if they couldn't smell us.”

Katherine already pointed out I had a rather strong and very distinctive scent because I'm in heat, but I could not smell anything unusual about my scent.  Katherine assured me it was probably normal for animals with highly developed sense of smell to be insensitive to their own personal scent, at least this was true as far as Chakats were concerned.  Shi also noticed the cubs' sense of smell seemed to be sharper than an adult's sense of smell.  I had noticed this too, and I suspected the young ones' apparently sharper sense of smell was mostly because they simply accept and pay more attention to this 'new' sense than adults do, adults who grew up with an almost nonexistent sense of smell.

*   *   *   *   *

Almost as soon as we returned to the Main Caverns the next morning, one of Di Vargin's followers made a snide comment about stupid superstitions and almost started a fight.  I was surprised, pleased, and a bit suspicious, when Di Vargin moved in to break up the argument before I could.  Shi really seemed pissed off at the one who made the snide remark, a very vocal atheist: 'Doc' Reeses.  Di Vargin forced Reeses to apologize for hir 'intolerant' words, then shi apologized also.  From all of my experiences with socialists and communists, which by all accounts Di Vargin was supposed to be, I could not help wondering what shi was up to.  As I think about what I personally knew about Di Vargin, I had to admit I had never heard Di Vargin wishing anyone harm.  Shi also worked as hard as anyone else, and had a knack for getting others to work too.  Maybe I was too suspicious of Di Vargin, but I really wish shi was a little easier for me to get along with.

I had to visit Lissa and hir newborn kit, whom Lissa named Terry, but whom Melissa and the other cubs were calling Stripes because of hir spotted and horizontally striped markings.  Lissa looked as proud as any new mother as little Terry, or Stripes, contentedly suckled at hir mother's breast.

As I look on, Katherine said, “I suppose you already know adults really do begin producing mother's milk by drinking some of the first milk of a new mother like Lissa.  That's one more confirmation Chakats are not so fictional and that is what we are now.  I wonder which came first, the fictional creatures or the real flesh and blood creatures we've been turned into?”

I sighed and said as I absently caressed hir soft furry flank, “I do too.  If time travel is involved, then it could be either way, or both if some kind of paradox is also involved.”

Katherine shuddered and softly asked, “This isn't Earth, so technology capable of interstellar space travel is definitely involved.  If whoever they are is also capable of time travel, then how can we ever hope deal with something like that?”

I hugged and nuzzled hir as I said, “We can't, but our grandchildren or great grandchildren may be able to at least meet them on close to even terms.  They can if we can hold on to enough basic knowledge and science to let us start off from a eighteenth or maybe even nineteenth century technology base.  Scattered among us are enough hints and leads to twentieth and twenty-first century technology that should give our children a big boost.  Just the list of things we know won't work, or is too harmful to be used, is a huge advantage that should allow us to avoid damaging our world, and ourselves, the way humans did on Earth due to simple ignorance.”

Purring, Katherine nuzzled and kiss-licked me, then said in a joking tone, “You know, for someone who's not a preacher, you sure do a lot of preaching.”

I playfully nipped hir ear and said in a mock huff, “I do not preach! I don't need to.  We seem to have an excess of preachers who are quite happy to start harping on whatever pet peeve they happen to have at any given time or place.”

Katherine nipped me back and said, “Well, at least they're talking and not throwing rocks and pointed sticks at each other.”

I chuckled and replied, “Yeah, they talk and talk and yell some, then go off in a sulk just to come back the next day and do it all over again.  I guess that is a little better than throwing rocks, but it sure gets hard on the ears after a while.”

As we left Lissa and hir cub, intending to find a little privacy and 'play' a little more, Night Runner trotted up to us and said a polite, “Good morning White Tip!  Good morning doctor!” as hir nose slightly twitched.  I knew exactly what shi was smelling as shi went on to say, “I guess you two are a. . . little busy this morning?” and a smile worked its way across hir usually serious features.

Katherine snorted and said, “Yeah, you might say that!  And we are going to be. . . busy again, real soon, if no emergency comes up.  You're not going to tell us there is such an emergency in progress that requires our personal attention, are you?”

Still smiling, Night Runner backed away saying, “Oh no!  There's no emergency, at least none I know of.”

Katherine snorted again and said, “Good!  And if everyone has any brains, there won't be any emergencies for at least the next. . . uhh, three hours.”

I was more than a little surprised at Katherine's response.  It seemed rather. . . masculine and not like hir usual easy going self.  Shi seemed downright possessive in a way I found more than a little sexy.  Smiling at Katherine with my tail entwined with hirs, I said to Night Runner, “If you're having any problem with the paper mill, that is your concern.  You have full responsibility and authority over the paper production.  If it's about paper allotments, that can wait until the meeting tonight.  If Di Vargin, or anyone else, is having trouble with that, then they can get over it!”

I winked at Night Runner and said, “Katherine has an. . . 'anatomy' lesson shi wants to. . . present to me.  I'm sure you have noticed how eager I am to increase my knowledge whenever possible, so we'll see you in about three. . . or four hours.”

Katherine playfully swatted the back of my head as Night Runner laughed and said as shi trotted away, “Ohh, yess.  Anatomy lessons. . . yes, I understand certain 'anatomy' lessons are becoming rather popular.  Have fun.  I'll see ya tonight.”

We managed to slip away without anyone intercepting us and had a very pleasant four hour anatomy tutoring session.  I was looking forward to another such lesson real soon, and I was sure Katherine was too.

We 'just happened' to run into May on the way back to the main caves.  Shi waved and trotted along with us a while before politely saying, “This is not exactly an 'emergency', but Di Vargin has pointed out a possible problem he thinks may lead to tragic consequences.”

I wondered what it was this time.  Di Vargin could be an annoying ass-hole but shi was a smart hard-working ass-hole who seemed to be able get a surprising amount of work out of some people who would otherwise be happy to do as little as possible.  I had learned the hard way to value points of view different from my own in solving complex problems, such as our continued survival and technology conservation.  This was something Di Vargin was not at all slow in letting me know when hir point of view about anything differed from my own.

I sighed and asked, “What is this possible problem Di Vargin is concerned about?”

May said, “He, Shi is concerned about the health of the recon teams.”

Katherine asked, “Does this concern the personal hygiene problem?”

May nodded with more than a little embarrassment and said, “Yes, it is.” May was one of the ones who had a hard time using the simple, effective, but rather embarrassing method of licking hirself like a cat or dog.

Once again, I could not keep from wondering about Di Vargin's motives.  As far as I knew, most members of the recon teams would be very likely to actively oppose almost anything Di Vargin might want to do, especially anything that seemed too 'communistic', or might seem to threaten their personal freedom.  If Di Vargin really was as 'rabid' a socialist as shi was supposed to be, and sometimes seemed to be, then it would be in hir interest if such opposition could be eliminated, especially if it was done by some unfortunate 'natural' occurrence such as disease.  I knew I might be unduly suspicious of Di Vargin, but I had seen firsthand how willing really dedicated socialists were when it came to eliminating opposition by any means available.  So, this 'concern' for the welfare of probable 'reactionary elements' made me very suspicious, while at the same time caused me to wonder just how politically motivated Di Vargin really was.

During these first few weeks, our community had gotten about as organized as it was going to get without using threats and force, something I felt would be counterproductive since things were actually going as well as could be expected.  It had been a hectic two weeks, especially the first week, but now most people had 'projects' they were working on, although they were going farther and farther afield, often staying out for a day or more, the hunter-gathering teams were bringing in more than enough food and raw materials.  So, I felt I could be spared for the few days it would take to track down the recon teams and inform them of the treatment for the unexpected hygiene problem Di Vargin seemed so concerned about.

I did not have to go, but I really wanted to get away from the general area around our community and see more of our new world.  I had justifiable reasons to feel I was a pretty good problem solver, but with everything running nice and smooth except for the small everyday problems any good leader or supervisor should be able to handle, I felt like a fifth wheel.  Maybe this was selfish of me, but as long as everything was going so well, I really did not think I was doing anything other people could not do just as well.  I also did not want the colony to become too dependent on me to solve unexpected problems.

While I was away, Katherine and Folson would be in overall charge, with the able help of a dozen of the community's more energetic members.  Even if something happened to me, I liked to think I would be missed, but I had no serious doubts about the survival of the community.  I also knew Jay, Melissa, and my other adopted children would be well taken care of by Katherine and May.  So, it was decided to send out five teams of three people each to chase after the five recon teams.  Based on the rather cynical yet practical idea of keeping enemies or possible enemies close, I made a point of 'inviting' Di Vargin to come along with me.  I think my 'invitation' caught Di Vargin by surprise, and after throwing out a few weak reasons for not going shi agreed to go along.

Although the recon teams had a six day head start, we did not expect to take more than a couple of days to catch up to them.  After all, they would be surveying as wide an area as they could, while we would just be chasing after them without taking any time for surveying the territory and looking for possible resources.

As I expected, most of my adopted kids were not at all happy to hear they would have to stay behind with Katherine while I got to 'go exploring'.  All of them wanted to go exploring too, except for Valerie who insisted shi really was not interested in doing so.  I wondered why shi said shi was not interested in exploring new territory, since all the other young, and most of the older Chakats were.  The desire to explore I guess could be due to 'Chakat curiosity', but it could just as easily be a normal human desire to see what's beyond the next hill.  Anyway, when Melissa teased Valerie about 'sniffing' after Night Walker, I realized why Valerie, who was nearing hir male peak, was not interested in exploring.

Night Walker had been a forty-three year old VP of R&D of an electronics company which had been field testing a 'secure personal communication device', in other words an encrypted cell-phone, for military use.  Shi was now in charge of developing a variety of paper products, especially a usable writing paper, and writing utensils.  From Night Walker's scent, it was pretty clear shi was very close to hir female peak, and since shi had not shown an interest in anyone in particular, shi had several suitors.  While Valerie was only seventeen, shi was as physically mature as any 'adult', nor did shi act at all childish, usually anyway.  I felt I could trust the more mature and experienced Night Walker to be careful of Valerie's emotions.  Besides, there were worse choices in mates, a lot worse in my opinion, and if Katherine was right, there was no way we could become pregnant by 'accident'.  Well, there's not a lot I could do except give hir advice and hope Valerie was mature enough to give it a lot of serious thought before shi decided to get pregnant, or get someone else pregnant.  In any case, I expected to be back several days before Valerie got to hir female peak.

* * * * *         * * * * *         * * * * *

As we set off after the recon teams, I found I kept worrying about leaving the cubs even though I knew Katherine and May would do as good, or better a job of keeping an eye on them as I could.  So I was surprised when Di Vargin said as shi trotted along side me, “You do not need to worry about the children, they will be fine.  I'm sure you've noticed how everyone keeps an eye on the young ones?”

I gave hir a curious look before I nodded and said, “Yes, I have.  That still didn't keep Alex from wandering away and falling off that cliff.”

Di Vargin grunted and replied, “True, but that happened before it sank in just how well, and fast, a one year old can get around now.  Alex survived, and his experience impressed everyone that the youngest children have to be watched much more closely.  The older children, the four year olds and older, are intelligent enough to avoid dangers the little ones would not recognize.”

Shi chuckled and added, “Besides, that happened before your rather too practical suggestions on child rearing proved to be so effective.”

Feeling oddly defensive I said, “Well, we simply can't treat the three year old and younger cubs like human children the same age!  They're just as curious and no more intelligent or cautious, but they're far more physically developed and coordinated than a human child the same age.  A six month old cub can scurry around so much easier and faster. . . it's terrifying how quick they can get into trouble.  Even Long Green's three month old can race around better than any human two year old, and there is so many ways little Streak can get hurt. . . I've lost way too much sleep worrying about losing a cub down one of the hundreds of sink-holes and caves in the area.  Every morning I'm surprised that some cub or kit hasn't crawled into some hole in the ground and gotten stuck out of reach of any possible rescue.”

Di Vargin snorted and said, “I know this is no comfort and they are really hairy old clichés, but 'children will be children' and 'experience is the best teacher'.  If children are to grow up to become useful adults, they can't be protected from every possible danger.  Getting hurt is part of growing up.  I still remember how I learned the 'pretty red and orange' stuff in the fire place was not something I could play with, I learned really quick it had a very painful bite.  I don't remember it but my mother said I learned not to stick bobby pins in electrical outlets the same way.  I survived, and most children do.  At least we don't have to worry about protecting the children from traffic, drugs, crime, or any of the hundreds of hazards of modern society.”

After a pause Di Vargin suddenly asked, “Do you know why Long Green chose that name?”

The sudden change in subject caught me by surprise and I replied, “Huh?  Uhh. . . No!  I don't have a clue.  Why'd you ask?”

“No particular reason, I was just curious.” shi replied.  Then added after a long pause as we trotted along together, “I find it curious how many people have adopted new names, especially names like Long Green or Dipper or Blue Nose, the kind of names people usually give their pets.”

“You thinking of adopting a new name too?” I asked.

“No, of course not!” Di Vargin replied, “I am quite satisfied with my name as it is, thank you.  I do wonder about the psychological significance of taking such a name though.”

I shrugged and said, “Oh, I'm sure any psychologist could find this indicated a suitably dire psychological problem.  I'm also sure that you'd get three or four different analyses from any five randomly chosen psychologists.”

“Sounds like you don't think much of modern psychology.” Di Vargin commented.

“No, not at all.” I explained, “I think a good competent psychologist can do a lot to help people understand themselves.  Unfortunately, as I'm sure you are aware of, most people can't seem to tell the truly helpful advice of an honest competent psychologist from the smooth sounding psycho-babble of the politically motivated or incompetent ones, as well as outright frauds.”

We jogged along in silence for a while as I thought about Di Vargin's comments.  This was the first time I had had what could be considered a casual conversation with hir, without three or four of hir supporters listening in, which could be why this was the first time we had talked like this.  This thought caused me to wonder if a chance to talk in private was why shi did not argue nearly as much as I expected when I nearly insisted on hir coming along with me on this expedition.

As I thought about this, I was at first annoyed, then I gave a laugh that startled Di Vargin and said, “I appreciate you 'donating' the paper you kicked up such a fuss to get.  I'm sure Black Mane will find the paper very useful, as well as being suitably annoyed when shi finds out shi has you to thank for it.”

Di Vargin grunted as we leaped over a small dry gully and replied, “I realized how important it is to learning as much as we can as fast as we can about the world we have found ourselves in.  I also know how much better this can be done if decent maps and notes are made as the survey is done.” Then shi asked with seeming puzzlement, “Who is Black Mane?”

“Colonel Deering.” I replied, “Black Mane is the nick-name some of hir people has given hir. . . I have a feeling the name will stick, no matter what Deering thinks of it.”

Di Vargin got a thoughtful look then asked, “Mmmm. . . Uhh, have you happened to hear if I've acquired a 'nick-name'?”

I snorted and said, “It depends on what you consider a nick-name to be, and on who happens to be talking.  I'm sure you can guess what a few of them are.  You know, your people are not making you any friends with at least two-thirds of our little community.”

Shi grunted and replied sourly, “Yess, I know.  I have done what I can to make it clear to my more vocal colleagues that if they provoke a riot, I will personally hang them out to dry, if they survive.”

I chuckled and said, “Oh, I wouldn't worry too much.  I got the impression most of your people have a fairly well developed survival instinct.  Too many people have gotten out of the habit of taking personal responsibility for their own actions and rude obnoxious behavior.  I assume things will settle down when it finally sinks through some people's thick skulls that there are no lawyers or legal system to protect the more obnoxious assholes from the outrage of the majority of the community.”

* * * * *         * * * * *         * * * * *

Eight hours after we set out, Weaver, the third member of our pursuit team, found a campsite of the Recon team we were pursuing.  About an hour before finding the campsite, Di Vargin and I surprised and managed to bring down a small deer-like animal, so we took the opportunity to fix ourselves a good meal and rest a couple of hours at the old campsite before continuing.  Weaver, named for hir highly developed basketry skill, had a golden mane and jaguar markings.  Shi was one of the few non-American passengers on the plane.  Shi spoke very little English, but knew a littlemore Spanish and Portuguese.  Hir native language seemed to be one of the many Mayan based dialects common in central America and southeastern Mexico.

Weaver had the 'honor' of being the elder of our group, although now shi was the same physical age as all other adults.  Hir great granddaughter, the only qualified female Army Ranger assigned as an instructor at Deering's Jungle Warfare and Counter Insurgency training base, confirmed shi was at least 96 or 97 years old, if shi was not well over a hundred as shi claimed to be.  Weaver was quiet and reserved, understandable given hir lack of English which everyone else spoke, who began turning out really excellent baskets as soon as shi found suitable material to weave them with.  Shi was with Di Vargin and me because shi wished to give hir great granddaughter, sergeant Talaina, who was on the same survey team as Deering, a set of woven saddlebags and 'other' things shi thought hir granddaughter could use.

Communication was such a vital part of my prior profession, I almost had to develop the ability of picking up useful words and phrases from whatever language the local people used.  I usually learned little more than the minimum needed for basic communication.  Over time I have accumulated an extensive vocabulary from dozens of languages and dialects from mostly South and Central America, and Southeast Asia.  I spoke Spanish pretty well, and knew more than enough Portuguese for everyday use, so I was one of the few people who could talk with Weaver.  I also knew quite a bit of Mayan and Incan dialects, as well as a few other native South American languages.

Most people consider deliberate eavesdropping to be less than honest, but it is habit which has allowed me to avoid a lot of trouble in the past when I just happened to 'overhear' a conversation, or just a comment, which was not intended for my ears.  So, when I overheard Di Vargin and Weaver chatting in Mayan, it was almost a 'reflex' to keep my knowledge of the language to myself.  I had been using a bastard combination of mostly Spanish and Portuguese, with a few words of English to communicate with Weaver.  So I let Di Vargin assume I did not understand the Mayan dialect I occasionally overheard them speaking before we left.

Even though I used the English sprinkled Spanish-Portuguese Creole to speak with hir, I strongly suspected Weaver suspected I understood more than a few words of the Mayan shi and Di Vargin used.  But it seemed Weaver did not feel any need to inform Di Vargin of hir suspicions, assuming shi really was suspicious.  As a result, I soon realized Di Vargin was more likely 'courting' Weaver than 'plotting' nefarious mischief with hir, and it looked like the effort was not wasted.  After seeing the two of them resting side by side with tails entwined as they quietly talked and nuzzled, I wondered which one would end up pregnant first.

While relaxing after eating to give a rather big meal of roasted 'deer' with tender 'sweet cane' shoots and 'needle leaf' roots time to digest, Weaver got an odd-looking musical instrument from hir saddlebags.  It was made from a gourd like fruit Weaver found growing in 'Bamboo Vale' after carefully cleaning the tangy blue flesh and saving the big thumbnail size seeds.  Shi sun-dried a dozen of the empty rinds, then carefully carved six to eight finger holes in the tough shell and fitted a mouthpiece.  Shi tried a different configuration of finger holes and mouthpiece with each one until shi got one shi was satisfied with.

The resulting instrument was a little more than a foot long and about four inches in diameter at it's widest point, which produced pleasant 'windy' tones vaguely similar the tones of traditional Mayan or Inca instruments.  The haunting melodies Weaver played were also similar to, yet distinctly different from any of the modern melodies derived from ancient Mayan or Inca melodies.  I knew about Weaver's 'wind' instrument, but I was more than a little surprised when Di Vargin got a recorder from hir saddlebags and added its tones to Weaver's melody with unexpected skill.

After they finished their impromptu performance, I said to Weaver, “That was very good,” and asked, “Why haven't you two played like that back at the caves?”

Weaver just smiled at hir as Di Vargin replied, “There are too many more important things to do.”

I smiled and using the Spanish-Portuguese Creole Di Vargin understood as well as Weaver, I asked, “Ohhh, then why did you make the recorder, if you had so many 'important' things to do?”

Di Vargin gave me a sour look, to which I laughed and said, “You should loosen up; you take things way too seriously!  You work as hard as anyone, twice as hard as most, so if anyone is entitled to take some time off, it's you.”

With what seemed to be all seriousness, Di Vargin replied, “That would not be setting a proper example.”

I just stared at hir very serious expression for a good minute before I finally snorted and broke out laughing.  The look of puzzled seriousness shi gave me caused me to just laughed harder, then shi smiled and chuckled.  I finally managed to stop laughing and said,“You do have a sense of humor after all.  I'm serious, you really should take time off and enjoy yourself.  We are not hurting for food, or water, or shelter, so there is no need for anyone to work themselves as hard as you do.  This area is not as barren as it looks at first, and our foragers can range over a wider area so we can avoid hunting out the game before we find a better place to move to.”

Weaver said, “You believe we should move. . . Why?  There are no large predators, or any other serious danger to threaten us.”

I nodded and said, “Except for the scorpions, and the possibility of getting caught in a flash flood, that is true.  I guess I assume we're going to move is probably because I miss having trees around, and the hills and mountains to the west seem more attractive to me.  I also think it would be easier to establish a civilization elsewhere, preferably near a river to allow easier transportation.”

Shi shrugged and asked, “We do not need Gringo 'civilization', so why should we poison the land and ourselves with its evil?”

I sighed, because this was something that kept bothering me, and said, “I hope we can avoid most of the evils, at least enough to avoid poisoning the land and ourselves.  I am pretty sure we are not human in more ways than just physically, and I hope we do not dull our senses to the wonders of the world around us as was so common with humans.  If we can establish a link with this land, with this world, make it our own, make ourselves a part of it, I do not believe we will rape the land as man did on Earth.  I have no doubt we can have all the benefits of a technological civilization and live in harmony with our world and the other living creatures we share it with.”

I paused and sighed again before adding, “I really hope we and our descendants can live in harmony with our world, and develop an advanced technological civilization, because I also have no doubt we have no choice but to develop such a civilization.”

Di Vargin asked, “Why do you think that?  You think your alien abductors will come back?”

I chuckled and said, “No, I don't think they'll be back to do more than check up on our development from time to time.  I personally enjoyed the use of most 'modern' conveniences of technology, and I really believe people were much better off who had access to the tools of such modern technology, as well as the vast store of raw knowledge that was becoming available.  But, the reason I don't think we have a choice about developing a high level of technology, is I don't want our descendants to be in the position of 'primitive' aborigines when they eventually run into humans.”

Di Vargin asked, “Do you really think that's likely?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I do.  Maybe that won't happen for several generations, but I'm sure we'll meet them someday, and I think it would be better, if we found them instead of them finding us.”

“I doubt that will happen,” Di Vargin said, “Man, or at least this civilization, will not survive another generation.”

I chuckled and said, “I'm not a 'doomie' Di Vargin, I'm sure Man will muddle through as he usually does.  I hope people remember the screw-ups and learn enough to avoid repeating them every generation, but even if they don't, I'm sure 'man' as a whole will survive.  Of course, it wouldn't surprise me if a whole hell of a lot of them die in rather horrible ways over the next hundred or two-hundred years.”

Weaver nodded and said, “Yes, many, many will die for the evils done to the Great Mother, but I too, doubt man will cease to be as long as the Great Mother provides air to breath and water to drink.”

I was not really surprised when Di Vargin rolled hir eyes at Weaver's 'religious' comment.  I was a little surprised Weaver saw Di Vargin rolling hir eyes and swatted hir across the nose with hir tail.  But I was very surprised when Di Vargin responded by tackling Weaver and the two of them ended up all wrapped up together, rolling around on the ground laughing!

I stared at them until I was sure they really were not fighting, then I commented, “Hummm. . . I see you've decided to take my advice about relaxing and having some fun.”

They finally came to rest with Di Vargin on hir back and Weaver stretched out on top of hir, both panting and smelling of sex.  This was more than just surprising, it was downright weird, and as far as I knew it was totally out of character for both of them.  Their scent was strong and it was getting me aroused too, so I moved away to see just how far they would go.

Weaver smiled at me as I squatted several yards away, up wind, while Di Vargin licked and sucked on one of hir nipples, shi said, “Come, come and join us.  I can smell you want to.”

I shook my head and looked around as I muttered, “There's something wrong here. . .” Then I said, “Are you feeling. . . well?  You and Di Vargin are not acting the way you normally do.”

I was getting sexually aroused, and seeing Weaver reaching down to guide the wet tip of hir very erect penis to Di Vargin's even wetter vagina did nothing to cool my growing lust.  As Weaver buried the length of hir hard cock in Di Vargin, shi gave out a low growl and shuddered, as Weaver sighed then said, “I feeling very well.  Come, join us.”

I tried to figure out what was causing Weaver and Di Vargin to act like a couple of lust crazed nymphos all the sudden.  We all ate the same things for dinner, and as far as I knew we did not eat anything new, but the roasted meat and vegetable kabobs did taste a little different. . . and the smoke from the fire had pleasant spicy scent we all noticed and commented on.  Could the smoke be the reason they were acting so weird?  Could it be an aphrodisiac, one that really worked?

Whatever was causing Weaver and Di Vargin to act like a couple of teenagers in heat was obviously affecting me, and it was getting harder to resist Weaver's invitation to join them.  The longer I watched them, the more aroused I became.  In fact, as I watched them having fun I really could not think of any reason why I should not join the fun too.

* * * * *         * * * * *         * * * * *

The rising sun woke us up the next morning, and we found we were all snuggled up together in one big furry pile.  I had a slight headache, but otherwise I felt pretty good, which was very different from the last time I got so intoxicated I lost control.  That time I really paid for it the next day.  I did not remember a lot of details of what happened, but I did remember the three of us had one hell of an orgy last night.

Before my transformation, before I learned better, I had made a fool of myself on several occasions by drinking too much, which still embarrasses me when I think about the things I did then.  This was a bit different in that this time I got 'accidentally' intoxicated, so I really did not feel enough at fault to be more than mildly embarrassed by what I did last night.  Di Vargin was obviously very embarrassed, while Weaver did not seem the least embarrassed by what happened.  Shi was also as curious as I was about what caused us to act as we did.

It did not take long to determine the only new thing we had all been exposed to before the orgy started was the smoke from our camp fire.  We had used wood from several different varieties of small tree-like bushes that grew in the area.  At least two, and maybe three, of them were ones we had not seen before.  While we collected samples, Weaver chuckled and said, “It would be interesting to see results if this wood is used on the fires in the cave.”

“There'd be a fucking riot!” I exclaimed.

Di Vargin snorted and said, “yesss, a riot in all senses of that word.”

I added, “The 'results' of something like that would not be at all good.”

Di Vargin agreed, “No not at all, I wouldn't be surprised if one or more of those religious zealots killed someone the next day to 'atone' for their 'sins'.”

I sighed and said, “I don't think that would happen, but unfortunately it is a possibility, especially if a couple of loudmouth provocateurs shoots their mouths off as they usually do.”

Di Vargin sighed too and said, “Yes, that is what I was thinking of.”

I chuckled and said, “Hummm. . . I'm so sorry to see they're giving you headaches too.”

“Yeah,” Di Vargin grunted, “I'm sure you are.”

* * * * *         * * * * *         * * * * *

We had intended to continue our quest after a short nap after eating, but the unexpected orgy, and the collection of biological samples caused a good nine to twelve hour delay.  So, except for a very necessary half hour rest stop every two hours, and a much longer stop during the hottest part of the day, we continued trailing the survey team at a good ground-eating jog through the rest of the day and into the night.  The cooler night made traveling easier, so we were able to travel three or four hours between rest stops.

By nightfall we began leaving the broken ravine-torn 'badlands' as we entered the foothills, with their much thicker and more varied growth of plants, including real trees.  The scents were different, stronger and as varied as the covering growth of plants.  This flood of new scents was confusing, and I expected trailing the recon/survey team would be harder, but I soon found this was not the case since they were leaving deliberate scent and visual blaze marks every so often.

I always thought I was a fairly good tracker, and much to my surprise Di Vargin turned out to be a pretty good tracker too, but Weaver proved to be on an entirely different level when it came to visual tracking.  Shi saw things I had trouble seeing even after shi pointed them out to me, and Di Vargin had to admit shi did not see at all.  Except for footprints, it was a lot easier to leave a visual trail in the richer, thicker cover of the foothill than it was out in the barer 'badlands'.  Visual tracking by itself is much slower than scent tracking, but combining the two as Weaver demonstrated was possible, even without the blaze marks, it was like following a herd of stampeding cattle through the forest than a dozen relatively stealthy chakats.  Of course, as I well knew, it would have been a very different thing if the recon/survey team had been trying to conceal their passage.

Although it was several hours after sunset, and it was noticeably darker in the forested foothills, our pace did not slow much since we could still see almost as well as we could see during the day.  With Weaver in the lead, flanked by Di Vargin and me, we jogged along at good steady pace as we followed the trail and blaze marks left by the survey team.  We were keeping watch for any dangerous animals, but since we ate the last of the small deer we killed the first day we were mostly looking for game, something we could cook at our next rest stop.

A couple hours before dawn, we again practically ran over a deer-like animal, a different species of 'deer' at least three times larger than the one we killed in the badlands.  Actually it was a small herd of them, and I managed to get a good hit on one that was a little slower than the others with my javelin as the herd scattered.  The javelin hit by itself would have probably been quickly lethal, but it slowed the animal down enough to allow me to catch and tackle it.  I acted mostly, but not all on reflex, and I found myself rolling on the ground with all six sets of claws dug in and my fangs sunk in the deer's throat just below its jaw cutting off its air supply.  By the time the deer and I came to a stop, I was fully aware of what I was doing, but I continued clinging to the now weakly struggling animal with my jaws tightly clamped shut until I actually felt it shudder and die.

As I disentangled myself from my kill, a smiling Weaver said something in hir Mayan dialect I recognized as, “Good kill, Hunter!” before repeating it in the Spanish/Portuguese Creole shi knew I understood.

Di Vargin stared at me with and odd expression on hir face during the few seconds it took me to calm down, then shi only said, “You have blood on your mouth and face.”

I nodded in reply as I licked the salty blood from my lips while I leaned down to feel the warm body of the deer and thank it for giving us its meat.  Although I used a Navajo phrase, Weaver obviously understood what I meant, if not the actual words I spoke.  Di Vargin understood too, but obviously without really understanding why I did it, as shi asked, “You're not going 'aborigine' on us, are you?”

Di Vargin seemed rather uncomfortable as I stared at hir for a few seconds before replying, “Di Vargin, in case it has escaped your notice, we are the aborigines here.  But, if you're referring to the ‘Hunter's thanks’ I gave, that is something I've always done in one way or another before or after a kill ever since I realized killing any living creature is not something to be done lightly.”

Di Vargin reminded me why shi irritated me so much back in camp when shi smirked and said, “I wonder what the religious zealots would think of a pagan ritual like that?”

I sighed and said, “In case that has also escaped your notice, I believe I've made my religious views, or lack of them, pretty clear to most people.” I could not resist adding, “Are you trying to tell me you may have a problem with what you think of as a pagan ritual?”

Di Vargin snorted and replied, “No, just with ignorant superstition.”

I chuckled as I licked the last of the blood off my face that I could reach with my tongue, then said, “Well, at least you're consistent in your beliefs, and a lot more discreet in expressing them, than some of your colleges.  But you know Di Vargin, I've always found it interesting how so many physicists, the high priests of the hardest of hard sciences, have no doubt in God, while the practitioners of the so-called soft sciences are so often agnostics or atheists.  You might want to give thought to reasons why that would be so for the field of science which specializes in the scientific study of matter, the universe and creation itself.”  I paused then said, “I really don't care to discuss religious views."

Di Vargin snorted and muttered, “Yeah, sure.”

And,” I continued, “we have the bloody job of butchering this carcass.  This one's a bigger kill than we really need, and I hate wasting any more of it than we absolutely have to.”

Weaver started a fire while Di Vargin and I began the bloody work of butchering using razor sharp flint and obsidian flake blades we carried just for that purpose.  The raw meat would keep long enough to be used before it spoiled, but the mineral and vitamin rich organs would quickly spoil if they were not cooked.  So, while Di Vargin and I skinned and cut away the meat from the bones, Weaver roasted the liver, kidneys, brains, and a few other 'edible' organs.  We also split the bones for the marrow, which we ate raw, and which even Di Vargin admitted was a tasty treat since our transformation.

Although I, and all the others, at least as far as I know, still prefer our meat cooked, most of us find raw meat to be quite acceptable eating.  In fact, more than a few of the hunter/gatherers has made a quick snack of one or more of the small game they collected, despite warnings of possible internal parasite infestation.

It was an hour or so short of noon, and Weaver was just finishing weaving some extra saddlebags to carry our meat in, when we realized we had company.  Unwelcome company.  I would guess they looked more like wolves than the 'hyenas' out on the grassland looked like real hyenas, but there was enough differences it was plain they were not wolves or even real canines.  They looked to be about a third the mass of an adult Chakat, but there was a whole pack of them, maybe as many as fifteen or sixteen as far as we could see.

They were not the first scavengers to show up at a butchering, assuming they were just scavengers, but they were the first who looked like a serious threat.  Luckily, they seemed more interested in the scraps of our kill left over from butchering it, than fighting three strange and much larger carnivores.  We were very happy to let them have the scraps as a half dozen of the creatures backed away to let us out of our encircled camp.

As we jogged away Weaver said, “Those few scraps will not satisfy them long.”

I grunted and said, “Yes, hopefully when they finish off the scraps, we will be far enough away they won't bother chasing after us.”

“That is not very likely.” Di Vargin grunted as shi jumped over a fallen log.

“Unfortunately you're probably right, if they are anything like the wolves they resemble.” I agreed.

“Then we should find a place to cache the meat and prepare to meet their attack.” Weaver suggested.

I grunted as I leaped across a small brook and said, “No, not just meet their attack.  We must teach them to fear us as wolves on earth fear humans.  If they are as intelligent as wolves, they'll back off and leave us alone if we hit them hard enough.  Did either of you spot the alpha of that pack?”

Weaver replied, “The pack leader?  Yes, I think I did.  It is the one with tip of its right ear missing.  Why?  Do you think killing the pack leader will cause the pack to leave us alone?”

“That might work,” I said, “but I want to try something else first.  If they do come after us, I'll go after the alpha, and I'll need you two to keep the rest of the pack off my back till I'm done.”

We heard the first odd siren like 'howl' only ten to fifteen minutes after we started off.  They sure did not sound like wolves, but the sound conveyed the same panic inducing threat the howls of hunting wolf packs did back on earth.  Except this prey was not going to panic.

We continued jogging along at a good distance eating speed, but if these 'wolves' were like real wolves then they could keep up this pace a hell of a lot longer than we could.  As we jogged through the woods, we looked for a good place to meet the pack, somewhere the whole pack could not come at us from all directions.  Back in the badlands there were all kinds of places, such as cave entrances and narrow ridges between ravines, even a lone Chakat could defend hirself against a 'wolf' pack like this.  There did not seem to be any places like that here, and the woods would allow the pack to surround its prey unseen.

The trees were noticeably sparser at the top of the hill or low mountain we had been climbing.  There was also a really big tree, kind of like a huge old oak tree, just short of the crest in which we could stash our meat packs out of the reach of the wolves.  No one even suggested giving up any of our kill to the wolf pack. It was our kill, and even Di Vargin realized it would be a bad idea if this or any predator thought it easy to steal a Chakat's kill.

It was only a few minutes after we stashed our meat and took up our position at the hill crest before we saw the first of the pack loping along among the trees down the slope, following our scent trail.  The pack scouts followed our scent straight to the tree we hid our meat packs in.  It was soon apparent these 'wolves' were a little better climbers than real wolves, but not nearly as good as we were.

I was not too good with a sling, but I lucked out and scored a good solid hit on the flank of one of the 'wolves' climbing the tree after the meat it could probably smell and see.  My hit knocked it off balance and it came tumbling down out of the tree, knocking another climbing wolf from its perch on the way down.  Both Weaver and Di Vargin got hits with their slings too, with Weaver either killing outright or knocking unconscious the wolf shi hit.

At first, it was clear the wolves did not realize what happened as they snarled and snapped at each other.  Then several spotted us standing up on the hill crest above them just as we let go another sling volley.  This time I missed, but Di Vargin got a grazing hit on one, and Weaver dropped hir second wolf, as the first one shi dropped began showing signs the rock shi bounced off its skull had not been lethal.

They set up a wailing siren like howl, which was answered by their pack mates as they loped up the slope to join them.  The pack seemed to have grown in numbers and looked to have at least two dozen members, but several looked like they might actually be young near-adults.  The young ones could still be dangerous, but hopefully they would be more timid and mostly just watch the coming fight without becoming directly involved.

As they milled around downslope, some watched us and began working their way upslope toward us while others tried climbing into the lower branches of the tree again.  Once again, a couple of volleys from our slings discouraged the tree climbers, and set the whole pack howling.  All the while I watched the wolf with a clipped right ear, until I was sure it was the pack leader.

The sling missiles were obviously a new and unpleasant experience to this pack, and for a moment it looked like they might break and run, but the alpha managed to keep them together.  The alpha was a very cagey and alert animal, and the only one Weaver missed with her very accurate sling stones.  When the alpha got about half of the pack to charge up the slope at us, while the rest circled around to our flanks, we charged down the slope with just the detachable javelin point and our claws and fangs for weapons.

As we planned, I charged straight at the pack alpha with Weaver and Di Vargin guarding my flanks.  The three of us let out a yell/roar as loud as we could as we began our charge.  Our roar had very gratifying results.  Like the first time I inadvertently roared, the sheer volume of our combined roar surprised me.  It was pretty obvious our roar and sudden all out charge startled the hell out of most of the wolves who found themselves in front of us.

Most, but not all of the wolves who found themselves in our path scattered, and the ones that did not, momentarily froze like a deer caught in a spotlight at night.  They had bunched up as they skidded to a stop in a few groups of three to five.  One of these groups was between me and the alpha, so I simply leaped over them, forgetting the fact I was charging down hill at a rather high rate of speed.

I had no trouble at all clearing the four startled wolves, in fact I had no trouble leaping clear over them and the alpha a couple body lengths behind them.  Luckily there was another group of three wolves a body length behind the alpha, good luck for me, bad luck for the three wolves who cushioned my landing.  I would have probably broken a leg or something because of that ill-conceived charging downhill leap.  As it was, I did hear the sound of several bones snapping, luckily none of them were my bones.

I rolled clear of the tangled bodies to my feet and turned just in time to face the enraged charging alpha, closely followed by the four bigger than average wolves I had leaped over.  I somehow leapfrogged the alpha, sending him skidding on down the slope on his face, and landed right in the middle of the four wolves behind him.  I again landed on one wolf, knocking it flat with just my weight, then I swatted the wolf to my right with a forepaw as it snapped at me, and brought my clenched fist down on the skull of the wolf just in front of me.  The fourth wolf was knocked down by the body of the wolf I swatted.  With these four out of the fight for the moment, I turned to find the alpha just getting to its feet.  Before he could turn to face me, or run away, I leaped on top of him knocking him flat beneath my greater mass.  I had the alpha where I wanted him, and I now I was about to see if these 'wolves' reacted like real wolves were supposed to act.  I gripped the alpha's throat in my jaws, without drawing blood, and set a forepaw on his belly with my claws out and ready to make a disemboweling rake.

As I hoped, the alpha stopped struggling and froze motionless as soon as it realized I had its throat in my jaws.  So far, my 'great idea', which was based on some old nature shows I saw about the social lives of wolves, seemed to be working, but these things were not really wolves.  Since I had not clamped down on its throat with killing force, the alpha had submitted to me, acknowledged I had beaten it, in the hope I would not kill it.  An Alpha Wolf would have reacted the same way, it was an instinctive reaction, an instinctive reaction I had gambled this wolf-like pack carnivore would share.

As I released my grip on the alpha's throat and stood back a couple paces, I really hoped those nature documentaries were right, and these 'not really' wolves would react the same way.  The alpha just lay still a few moments as I realized I was not being attacked by several wolves who looked very ready and willing to do so, but who instead were very closely watching me and the alpha.  I had time to notice Di Vargin and Weaver for the first time since I made that first overzealous leap.  They had just finished with their first fights and looked like they were about to charge to my aid.  I quickly signaled them to wait, to 'chill out', to not attack the wolves gathered around me and the alpha.

When the alpha finally got up, it lowered its head down low below its shoulders and just stood there, until I stepped close and leaned down over its lowered head.  This was not quite the way the wolves in the documentary reacted, but it was close enough I felt I could guess how to act.  I guess my guess was close enough because most of the 'wolves' watching the alpha and me lowered their heads the same way the alpha did and made a low whining sound as they did so.

Two of the biggest wolves did not do as the others did, instead they growled and looked ready to attack.  Making another guess as to how to react to this - one of these days I had no doubt one of my 'guesses' was really going to screw me good - I approached the biggest dissenter.  I drew myself up, without rearing up, snarled and raised my arms to catch the wolf's attention, then I suddenly swatted it upside its head with my forepaw, with claws retracted.  Before it recovered from my 'sucker punch', I had its throat in my jaws and it instinctively submitted without any further fuss.  Seeing this, the other dissenting wolf submitted like the others, with obvious reluctance.

Soon after this, the alpha gave a yipping bark and led the pack down the away from us.  Not all the wolves left, eight were dead and two soon would be.  I was surprised the pack simply left the two injured wolves.  I'm not sure if real wolves would have abandoned pack members so quickly, but I could just be romanticizing how I thought real wolves would act.  One of the injured wolves had been gutted, so we finished it off since it was clear it would soon die anyway, and after carefully checking the other injured wolf we found it had a broken back so we quickly finished it off too.

In that short fight we had killed more than half of the adult members of the pack, while suffering only a few bruises, scrapes and scratches, as well as a couple of minor bites.  It was not hard to guess the pack would have a harder time surviving for the next year or two, and I very much doubted that pack would ever bother any Chakats again.  I felt bad about killing so many of the wolves, as did Weaver, and we all felt bad about wasting so much meat, but at least we could recover the skins.

Continued in
Mercy Mission, Part II

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