Her New World
The burrow wasn’t all that visible from a few steps away, unless you knew what to look for. It sat very low to the ground, only a couple of feet high at the top, and could easily be tripped over before being spotted. Mostly a collection of leaves and branches, stacked in such a way that they propped each other up, it was the most primitive of buildings. Yet there was an organization to it, the way the leaves were laid to keep out the wet of the rain steadily pouring at that moment, and the way the opening was facing downwind. Looking through the entryway there was evidence of more sophisticated thought in the burrow’s design. Most of the area under it had been dug out, giving it considerably more room than was evident from outside. The excavated earth was also packed in a ring around the edge of the hole, again to stop the rain from filling it. Primitive as it was, a lot of thought had gone into it and it was evident that whatever had built it was not just an animal.
Inside, near the far wall, shallow pits just a few inches deep had been dug, and a bed of leaves laid down in each. All were unoccupied except for one, where a lump lay in the darkness.
The lump was vaguely human-shaped under the viscous fluid that looked and smelled like vomit. A mass of blond hair at one end was all there really was to show that it was indeed a person. But the rest of the shape didn’t look right; it was too bloated, too big, as if someone had taken a human-shaped balloon and over-inflated it. You would hardly think that it was alive until you saw it breathing, slowly, in and out in a labored effort that had it wheezing in the silence. Further examination would have shown it laying face down, its head lifted and pointed forward to keep its airway open. It was an odd position to lie in, but then the person hadn’t really chosen the position herself. Whoever it was, they were out for the count, and had been for several days, something that worried her caretakers.
Three of them were with her now. Big, shaggy, covered with fur, they could have been men but they obviously were not. Men just didn’t match their size, their presence…their appearance. Their fur was in patterns of brown, grey and green, and grew everywhere but the palms of their hands and feet and on their faces, their very unique faces. Two cat-like eyes were set midway under heavy brows, with a large and firm-looking jaw underneath. Yet no nose was visible which gave each face a rather flat appearance, and if they had ears they were hidden under the thick fur on their heads.
The large claws on their three-fingered hands made them look menacing, but there was a grace about them that made you want to stop and take a second look. And if you could have read their expressions you would have been amazed to see that they were worried.
They were concerned about the stranger in the slime, the person they had rescued from the other strange creature, the one trying to kill it. All the tribe knew that to approach the thorny bushes was dangerous unless you were furred, and these new strangers obviously were not full grown yet, for their skin was still bare and they were still small. They hadn’t yet reached the age of full fur. Yet the strangers were big enough to have started furring which confused the tribe. And the strangers’ shapes were wrong in some places, especially their faces. They didn’t seem right.
One of the three got up and crept closer to the figure in the slime. It gently poked the sleeping body, feeling the way the flesh was still bloated, and sighed. To cure the poison of the bush was easy but it was taking a very long time, much longer than if one of their own had been caught. But whatever the stranger was it was still alive, which meant that the three and the rest of the tribe were not about to give up. Life was hard, which meant that life was precious.
The One had been watching the strangers for a long time, ever since the lights from above had heralded their arrival. From out of the sky the strangers had come in their big white caves and the One had gone out to see them, to see if they were threat or friend.
It, and a few others brave enough to go with it, had watched them closely yet remained hidden as was their way. But watching didn’t mean understanding and the One was as puzzled now by these strangers as when it first saw them. Indeed, it took a while for the One to begin to tell them apart and even now all it knew for sure was that there were two kinds of stranger, one flat and one with bumps on their front, and that the bumpy ones, like this one, did the flat ones’ bidding. Everything else about them was beyond the One’s simple comprehension.
But when the One saw one of the bumpy strangers being forced into the thorn bushes, it had to act. Life was precious and to take a life without reason was against the Holy Code. That the One took a stranger’s life didn’t weigh on its conscious, the stranger voided its own life in the act of taking another. The One’s soul was clean.
The One moved slightly, making a noise deep in its chest and with a lurch it bent low and vomited over the figure, adding to the foul smelling fluid already covering it. It spread the highly acidic mix over the body, kicking aside the smoking remains of the chain and cuffs that had once connected the stranger’s feet. The stomach acid of the One and its kind was unique in that it dissolved minerals yet could not dissolve living flesh. Yet it was packed full with anti-toxins. Evolution had done some strange things on this world.
Long ago the tribe had learned how their vomit countered the poisons of the thorn bushes. It was instinctive knowledge in a way, yet also passed down to each generation. Vomit from a furred one took away the swelling and made you well again. So as soon as this stranger had been pulled from the thorn bush, its rescuer had known what to do. There was some surprise when the hard objects covering it had dropped away smoking, but it was quickly forgotten in the rush to get away.
Still, as the One moved back to its position in the watch, it brought with it the remains of the chain and looked at it curiously, tasting it with its long tongue. It gave what passed for a smile and sucked on the end of the chain, enjoying its flavor. And as it sucked the chain it thought about the new strangers, wondering where they may have dug up such shiny, tasty rocks.
It was also raining at the Colony, the rain coming down hard enough to bounce, and few noted the return of the search party as they walked slowly into town.
The group of six men walked straight to the Recreation building and dumped their packs in the entryway before going inside. One of them, their leader, walked to the bar and ordered six large drinks.
Behind the bar, Nicholas Butu regarded the tired men and sighed, knowing that their efforts had come to naught. As he poured the drinks he waved at Mya to come serve the other men, while he leaned close to the man at the bar.
“You tried, my friend,” he said to his boss, Bob McKinly. “There is no dishonor in that.”
Bob looked up at him. He looked like he hadn’t slept at all since Staci disappeared, and in all likelihood he probably hadn’t. Nicholas Butu knew the man was heading for a complete burnout.
“She’s out there, I can feel it,” Bob said slowly.
Butu handed him the drink. “If she is, then she will be returned to us. But you need to rest or you will never find her.”
“Screw that!” Bob said angrily, taking the drink and heading back to his men who had found a table where they’d collapsed.
The group had been volunteers, and Bob appreciated the fact that all of them believed in the possibility of Staci still being alive, which most of the Colony didn’t. There was Tommy Windwalker of course, who Bob considered the most valuable man in the group because of his tracking skills. Tommy had led them on a three-day jaunt deep into the interior following the trail of what he had called a very fast-moving animal. But when the rain started it washed away the almost invisible remains of its passing and soon the trail was lost. Tommy had to give up and lead them back.
Also with the group was Kyle Laslo. He had come along partly as a way of helping the only man on his side during the troubles with his wife Lynn. His knowledge of the planet was the other reason, so that the rescue group wouldn’t run into anything else that was poisonous.
The other three were members of Tommy’s crew, and trusted by him. That made them fine in Bob’s eyes, even if his own friendship with the big Ex-SEAL seemed to be strained. Since Priss’ death, Tommy’s new-found trust in Dick Janis and his mission had caused several arguments between the men. But when Staci disappeared his friend was there for him, and Bob really appreciated it.
The six men stared at each other, reading in each other’s faces the defeat they had been forced to accept. Doubts crept into all their minds, even Bob McKinly’s, as to whether or not Staci Mann was still alive. But unlike the others, Bob wasn’t ready to contemplate the end just yet.
“She’s out there guys,” he said, looking them each in the eye.
The other men tried to avoid looking at him, except for Tommy who knew personally what Bob was going through. Dealing with denial can be tough.
“Bob. You have to be prepared…just in case. She fell into the thorn bush; that much we know. Like Priss she would have been poisoned and like Priss she wouldn’t have…survived, long. And even if she had somehow not received a lethal dose she was still at the mercy of whatever killed Roy. Hurt, helpless, she would have been easy prey,” said Tommy slowly.
“There was no blood at the scene,” Bob replied without looking at him. “None of her blood was left behind. She could be perfectly fine. Kidnapped.”
“Kidnapped by an animal?” Tommy asked quietly.
Bob looked at him, “You believed enough in that to go with me into the forest to look for her!”
“Yes. I believed, because there was still a chance. But, Bob, if the rain hadn’t turned us back when it did, I would have turned us around not long after anyway. Each day that passes, makes it less and less likely that…”
“NO! I WON’T hear it!” shouted Bob, jumping to his feet. “You’re not giving up on me…on her! I know she’s still alive out there, I can feel it. And it’s going to take a lot more than a rain shower to make me believe that we have lost her trail!”
“There’s nothing left to track,” Tommy said. “It’s not like she still has her collar on. With that we could have tracked her anywhere on the planet!”
“Bullshit! I’m surprised at your limited thinking, Tom. Not to mention the rest of you,” Bob said, looking around at his group. “I have a plan that will put us back in action, and if you come with me now you’ll see what it is!”
Tommy could see that Bob was acting like a desperate man, but there was also something about him that told Tommy that maybe his friend actually had a new idea. So he nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.”
“I want to go up to the Mayflower,” Bob McKinly said a little while later. They were in Alan Kent’s home sipping coffee that had obviously been made for the meeting between him and Dick Janis that they had interrupted. Janis decided to stay, much to Bob’s disgust, and stood admiring the art in the room while Bob pled his case.
“Why?” Kent asked simply, noting how worn-out Bob looked. He glanced at Tommy Windwalker and the two men shared a concerned look over Bob.
“I want to use the thermal imaging cameras we have up there for geological studies to look for Staci,” was the reply.
“Jesus,” Janis said. “What are you going to look for, her life signs? I know we’ve gone where no man has gone before but this isn’t a fucking TV show! There’s no way you’ll be able to pick her out from anything else living here!”
Bob ignored him by not replying to him. Instead he focused on Alan Kent. “It’s not a matter of finding her, just tracking her. There’s a camera focused on this entire peninsula and the surrounding area, set up to give us warning of geological instability or natural fires. I know; I had to point the ship so the cameras could get the best view right before we left. I want to go back into the data record and see if it picked up the attack on Staci. Maybe, just maybe, it might have caught something.”
Kent was surprised. Bob actually had something there. “Can’t you do that down here? They’re all supposed to feed to the science center aren’t they?”
“I looked, but there wasn’t enough detail on the downloaded record. I’ll need to go up and mess with the hardware directly. And if I have to broaden the search, then that is best done up there.”
“Broaden the search,” Kent echoed. “What do you mean?”
Bob sighed, “All I might get, if we’re lucky, is a direction, a pointer to where we can concentrate our search. But I’d like to scan ahead, see what major concentrations of life forms are out there so we can plan accordingly.”
Janis moved closer. “What makes you think they’ll show up?” he asked. “The only reason we know that Staci was carried away was because she showed up on the sensor grid that was supposed to warn us of anything coming through.” He glared for a second at Tommy, who had set up the grid. “Whatever it was that took her might not even show up on the thermals.”
Bob took a deep breath, holding in his anger. It seemed to him that he had been angry a lot lately, and put it down to this man here. “That’s true. And that is another reason to go up. I can deal better with the data up there.”
Kent sat back, shaking his head. “No, Bob, sorry. There’re too many variables, too many doubts that the trip wouldn’t be worth the fuel. We have a limited number of lifts to the Mayflower available to us and we have to make sure we don’t waste them, sorry.”
Bob was stunned. “You think that the survival of one of our own would be a waste of fuel?”
“I didn’t say that,” Kent countered. “For God’s sake man, accept it. She’s probably dead already. I mourn her loss, I really do. But death is something we are going to have to accept about living here, and we have had far too many deaths already. I don’t want you chasing after ghosts either; so no more unauthorized trips into the jungle.”
“I wouldn’t be forced into chasing ghosts, as you say, if I had better information, which I can get by going up to the Mayflower,” said Bob angrily.
“No. That’s my final answer on this matter,” Kent said firmly.
Janis coughed slightly. “Actually, there may be a way for Bob to get what he wants, and not waste shuttle fuel.”
Everyone turned to look at Janis, surprised by his positive words.
“Go on,” Kent said.
“In two weeks we have the first scheduled flight up to the ship for routine maintenance. I was going to take some of my guys I’ve been training, and the plan was that both Bob and Staci would also come up because they already know the systems. We need to keep up with the Mayflower maintenance a lot more now that she’s in orbit. What I suggest is that we move the trip forward. We could combine the two activities and we wouldn’t be wasting fuel because the trip is planned anyway. Two weeks early doesn’t really matter when the trips are twice a year.”
Bob blinked. “That’s brilliant. I’d forgotten about the service trip. Thank you, Dick. Really!”
Kent put a hand over his eyes, considering the possibilities. “How soon can you be ready?” he asked.
“We could leave tomorrow,” Janis said.
“HELL NO! We can leave in an hour!” Bob countered.
“I need a day to assemble the crew,” said Janis.
“Besides,” added, Kent, “Bob, with Staci gone you’re our best shuttle pilot. Unless you want a trainee flying the thing I suggest you get some rest; not to mention getting checked out by Doctor Kelly first.”
“Yeah,” added Janis, jumping in, “you guys missed your genetic booster shots and you don’t want to get behind on those.”
The three other men looked at Janis for a moment before Bob nodded. “Okay, sure, to be honest I could use the sleep. The data isn’t going anywhere. I’m just worried that every second counts, you know?”
Kent put his hand on Bob’s shoulder. “If she is still alive, there’s no reason to think she won’t stay alive. The hard part was living through that attack. Wherever she is now, she’s probably in a much better situation. She’s a fighter; I think we all know that.” He smiled and got smiles from all present, including a reluctant but honest smile from Janis.
“Thomas,” Kent said to Tommy Windwalker, “take this man over to see Doctor Kelly and then take him home. You’re responsible for seeing that he is rested and ready to fly tomorrow. Understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” Tommy answered, quite willing to look after his friend. He helped Bob up and Janis and Kent watched them leave.
“Why were you being so helpful?” Kent asked Janis after their visitors had left.
“I have to consider the possibility that seems to remain unspoken at the moment,” said Janis, standing at the window and looking outside.
“And what’s that?”
“That somehow Staci got Roy killed during the attack…if there was an attack and not just the actions of a provoked animal. And also that Staci wasn’t taken by anything but chose to run off by herself.”
“What, naked, and with no food?” Kent asked.
“She may have help, someone feeding her, giving her what she needs to survive alone out there. In any case, I’m going to keep a close eye on Bob’s so-called search, just in case he’s faking it. And if he isn’t, then his plan just might be what we need to track her down.” Janis looked directly at Kent, his eyes dark. “We can’t allow for the possibility of any of the women escaping. Once one does it, then the others will have hope that they can do it too. We can’t give them that hope. They have to learn their place, and that place is here under our feet.”
“You mean at our feet, don’t you?” Kent asked.
Janis just smiled, a thin, humorless smile that was becoming well-known.
Kent shifted uncomfortably, wondering not for the first time if he made a wise decision all those years ago making deals with this man. “I guess this means that you think she’s alive too.”
Janis’ smile faded for a moment, before returning. He shrugged and moved toward the door. “No. I think the cunt is as dead as women’s free will. But just in case, I’m going to follow McKinly closely. I’ve got nothing to lose by doing so, and in any case, it’s fun to watch him run around in circles.”
Kent looked at the man for a moment. “Why do you dislike Bob McKinly so much?” he asked.
Janis didn’t move, didn’t bat an eye, but something about the man grew darker and Kent had no problem sensing it. Then Janis spoke so softly that Kent almost didn’t catch what he said. “The man is just like my Father,” he whispered.
Alan Kent didn’t know what to say.
After a moment Janis looked away from the window. “What about Kelly? So far I haven’t seen much difference in the women yet. Are you sure that he’s actually doing what we told him to do?”
“My dear fellow, Doctor Kelly is doing exactly what we told him to do,” Kent answered, glad for the change of subject. “I’ve gone over his records and each woman, except for those on his staff of course, is receiving her prescribed course of treatment. The thing you have to remember is though, that it takes time to bring about these kinds of changes in the brain. You can’t just make someone less intelligent over night!”
Janis grunted, “I don’t trust the man.”
“As long as you control his family, you don’t have to.”
This made Janis grin. “Yeah…man his daughter is a hot piece of ass, and his wife isn’t bad either. Well worth the training I put into both of them.”
Kent stood and walked over to the other man. “I have to say again that I don’t approve of what you did to them. You were just supposed to kidnap them and hold them for the trip. How are you going to restore them when Kelly has finished his work?”
Janis gave Kent a look that spoke volumes in itself, and Kent knew that Janis had no intention of giving the two women up.
“Dick,” said Kent, trying to get back a measure of control that he was now aware of losing, “I know that without you none of what we had planned could have ever come to pass. But one thing I have to make clear to you is that I am the one in charge, not you. You answer to me. Understood?”
Janis’ mouth formed that thin smile. “Sure, Alan, sure. You’re in charge.”
“Dick,” said a female voice from the door, “what a pleasure!”
“Joyce! It’s good to see you!” Janis replied, turning to see Kent’s wife standing in the doorway.
Joyce Kent was between extreme bondages at the moment, taking a break to let her body recover, something she did only reluctantly. She was dressed in a loose white gown that draped over her body and hid its charms from the casual viewer, but her natural shape could be glimpsed from time to time as she moved.
She moved now, walking slowly, Janis going to meet her until the two hugged in the center of the room. Janis’ whole demeanor had changed with her arrival and now he was all smiles and charms as the two of them caught up.
Staying at the window, Kent watched them talk, aware as always that it was because of his wife that he knew Janis at all. Joyce’s quests for ever more restrictive and unusual bondage had led her to Dick Janis and his extreme methods and many times since then she had been trapped in one of his creations.
Watching them talk, Alan Kent couldn’t help thinking how alike they were in certain ways. They both had an obsessive streak that threatened to kill them both if they weren’t careful, and there were times he wished he had never heard of Dick Janis. It was clear now to him that Janis was no longer under his control and that he had allowed the man too much power in the community. This was something that Kent couldn’t allow, after all the Colony was his creation and this was his planet. He had paid for it!
Janis was useful, but that use was rapidly drawing to an end.
Putting on a fake smile, Kent moved to join his wife.
It was looking better, the stranger, now lying on its back after being turned over as it was each day. Its body was firming up as the poisons left it, driven away by the cure. It still slept though, except for brief periods when it stirred and uttered sounds, still half in the spirit land. During those times it was possible to give it water, which it drank greedily, and some food which it at first rejected.
They first gave it the food of the unfurred. Leaves, fruit and meat, but it had rejected it all, throwing it back up. So instead they gave it the food of the furred, the dark stones, the shiny pebbles, the soft yellow rock they could chew, and it also rejected that. So they fed it like a baby, using one of the unfurred to predigest and vomit the food it needed to survive into the stranger. Now it could almost take food by itself although it still could only keep down the fruits and meat.
At least it was something.
Soon it had to wake, for the tribe was ready to move to the Holy Place, and the One who watched it, who rescued it from certain death at the hands of its own kind, did not want to leave the stranger behind. The tribe was restless; it was almost time to go.
It felt strange being back in space after so long on the ground and in the back of Bob McKinly’s mind he knew that Staci would have enjoyed making the trip. She often spoke in the dark of night as they shared their bed of how she missed being weightless, of how she missed looking out to see the stars and the great planet below her. Half her working life had been spent in space; it was where she wanted to be.
‘Well,’ Bob thought to himself, ‘maybe she’ll make the next trip.’
He was counting on it really, but even Bob was enough of a realist to know that it was possible that Staci was dead. Not just possible, but very likely, even though he would never admit it out loud. But just the possibility of her being alive was enough to keep him going, and Bob knew he wouldn’t give up as long as there were leads to follow. But this lead was a long shot indeed, as he was now being told.
Allie Banks was one of the few women in the Colony whose job couldn’t be taken away from her. The Colony’s lone digital hardware/media expert, she was in charge of all the recording equipment and data processing for the scientists. They discovered things, but she gave them the tools to do so and record their findings. No one else knew the camera systems aboard Mayflower better than she did.
Janis was pissed when he was told that a woman would be accompanying them into orbit, and took personal control over her before leaving by stripping her and chaining her heavily. Now she floated over her seat on the Mayflower flight deck severely restrained. Her legs were doubled up and wrapped separately with straps that dug into her thick thighs. Her ankle cuffs were connected together and a chain led from them up and over her shoulders, pulling her ankles toward her head, bowing her backwards. A chain between her wrist cuffs ran through a ring on the front of her collar, giving only enough freedom of movement to operate her systems. More chains were wrapped around her body, compressing her breasts into globes of sensitive flesh that protruded in front of her. And to finish it off a single chain ran from the rings in her pierced labia to the chair itself, preventing her from floating away. Under gravity such stringent bondage would have soon become torture, but weightless it was merely painful.
Allie didn’t care for it; bondage was not her thing except in the lightest sense. But lately her Master had developed a hair trigger temper and was talking about selling her off to another man. She tried to behave.
“Master,” she said, being as polite as she could, “the cameras really weren’t designed for what you are asking from them. They were meant to scan large areas for large temperature gradients, not specific heat patterns the size of a human being.”
Bob sighed, “But you told me on the ground that there was a possibility you could find her.”
“Yes Master, I did. I can wash the data through some digital filters, write up a program to narrow the gradient parameters, but I want you to know that despite all I do, we are limited by the hardware itself. I…just want you…er…,”
Bob put his hand on her bare shoulder, “It’s okay, and I won’t get mad if you fail, only if you don’t try. Okay?”
Allie put a smile on her face, although it was a fake to make Bob happy. Too much had happened to her in the past few weeks to really trust what any man told her anymore. Still, she knew that this man was now without a slave girl, and if her Master was going to give her to anyone he might just offer her to Bob McKinly. She tried to make the smile more genuine.
“I’ll try, Master,” she said, “but you’ll have to give me a little space to work. To be honest, Master, I don’t do well with someone…looking over my shoulder and I know you want me to do my best.”
Bob chuckled, “Sure. I’m the same way when I want to concentrate. I’ll leave you up here; it’s not as if you will go wondering off anyplace. I can help with the maintenance details while I’m waiting.”
“Thank you, Master. Just give me several hours and then check in.”
Bob nodded and left the flight deck, glad that something was being done.
Allie watched him leave, glad he hadn’t bitten her head off for being so forward, and thought that maybe being given to him might not be so bad after all. But then she sighed when she turned to her work. Lately, it seemed like she was turning into a bit of a scatterbrain, always forgetting things that had seemed so simple not too long ago. But she was sure she could manage the job that Bob had just given her. She just had to buckle down.
Bob worked his way aft and Dick Janis put him to work outside the ship, giving the hull an eyeball inspection for any potential problems. It was scut work, but giving it to Bob meant that his techs were free to do their own jobs.
It was actually three hours later, after the lengthy space walk, before Bob reappeared on the flight deck to find Allie floating silently watching the planet through the large forward windows.
“Done?” he asked, making her jump.
“No, Master. The computer is compiling, but I’m getting close,” she replied. “Master, I know this isn’t my position, but could you please release my legs? I’m getting an awful cramp in one of them.”
Bob could see the woman was indeed in pain, and remembered that she wasn’t a bondage lover so she wasn’t used to long-term restraints. “I’m sorry, only Janis has the keys. I’ll go ask him to let you go if you want.”
“NO! No, Master. It’s okay, I’ll survive,” she said, obviously scared of disturbing the engineer.
Bob shrugged, not really caring. He was more concerned about Staci down on the planet. “How long then?”
The panel made a beeping sound and a display lit up, showing the peninsula and the surrounding area. The land looked dark while the sea was a bright reddish white.
“Maybe this time, Master,” Allie answered, turning to look. She manipulated the image and soon Bob could see reddish white dots all over the map, mostly concentrated where the Colony was sitting. He saw Allie smile.
“Master, with all due respect could you go get a cup of coffee or something and come back in half an hour. I’ve got the resolution finally, now I need to run through the data record.”
Bob pushed back a sudden urge to slap her. He was too excited to want to leave now, not when answers were so close. “No. I’m staying.” He said simply.
Allie looked at him for a second, but then tried to concentrate on her work. She felt she had a pretty good handle on it but she had lost twenty minutes when she forgot to save some data and it got overwritten before she was finished with it. But the big stuff was over; she just had to let the computer do most of the work.
Bob watched as she skimmed the record back to the time of the attack, running it forward and back at different scales, making notes directly on the screen. He found it hard to follow at first, but soon got the hang of what she was doing. As she got close to finishing, he called Janis up to the flight deck and the two men watched silently as a now very nervous Allie set up what she had discovered.
“Masters, I’m pretty sure I know where she is now, but I think I had better walk you through the data.”
“Go ahead, Allie,” Bob said, while an amused Dick Janis just nodded.
Allie brought up the first display of the peninsula again, doing a good job despite the chains that bound her so tightly. “Right here is where the Colony set down,” she said. “I have the resolution set to show human-sized heat sources as the white dots you see on the screen. There is a fifty degree variance on the temperature gradient, so anything within that range will also show up.”
She zoomed in the image to a spot near where the power station operated next to the river. “Right here is where the clearing was being done that day; you can see a lot of spots representing all the workers. Over here is the line of women reported to be where Staci was working. They are too close together to pull individual people from it, but it matches the map you gave me.”
“Can you tell who is who, cunt?” Janis asked.
“No, Master. But as I advance the record you can see this dot moving behind the line. I figure that was Master Roy, because of what happened soon after.”
The dot in question was already tagged with Roy’s name, something Allie had done earlier. “Now, watch. I’m running this in real time now and you can see Master Roy separate two people from the line, Laura and Staci. I tagged them as you can see, according to Laura’s statement of what happened.”
Both men nodded and they watched the three dots move away from the rest of the group into a place by themselves. They both knew Laura’s statement by heart and in Bob’s mind he could see Roy taking the girl as their dots merged. His blood boiled at the thought of how casually the man had availed himself of some easy sex, even though the woman’s Master okayed it; but that was nothing compared to his anger that the man assumed he had the same rights with Staci. As far as Bob was concerned, Roy got what he deserved.
Nearby, Janis could see how angry Bob was getting and he smiled. He didn’t give a shit that one of his men had taken time for a quickie, that’s what the cunts were for! The man shouldn’t have let his guard down, that’s all.
“Now Master Roy is going after Staci,” Allie said, as the dots moved around.
“Hey wait, freeze that,” said Janis suddenly. Allie stopped the play back.
“Where’s the animal, the one that attacked them?” he asked.
Allie looked down. “I…er…couldn’t find it,” she said, fearing her failure.
“There wasn’t a trace of it?” Bob said, not believing it.
“Nothing, Master. I tried several gradients but it just didn’t register on the thermal cameras.”
“I don’t get it,” Janis said, cautiously confused, “how can anything living not show up?”
“Maybe it isn’t living…as we would call it,” Bob replied.
“Screw you and your space monsters. Okay, get on with it, cunt!”
“Yes Master. Moving on, we see Roy chase Staci a short way, and then…”
The group watched silently as Roy’s dot flickered for just a few seconds, and then seemed to spread out before remaining still. Staci’s dot was also still and suddenly dimmed.”
“What’s going on?” Bob asked.
“I think, Master, that something came between Staci and the camera, something that blocked her thermal signature for a moment.”
Bob nodded and seconds later the dot representing Staci was bright again. Roy’s dot then moved some more and tiny little dots flew from it, dropping out of the image as the filters disregarded them. Soon Roy’s dot itself vanished and Allie told them it was because by this time Roy’s body was too small to register as human-sized.
Then Staci’s dot began to move and Allie zoomed the image out to keep track of her. Both men watched as her dot moved quickly away from the site of the attack, passing the line where the sensors Tommy had laid out were supposed to be, and on into the interior. It was moving at quite a speed and both Bob and Janis blinked when they realized just how fast that was.
“She covered a mile in just over a minute,” Janis said.
“No way could she do that, not even without a hobble chain on. Something got her and took her!” said Bob, slapping his knee.
Janis frowned, his theory of her escaping by herself now in doubt.
“Where did she go?” Bob asked.
Allie speeded up the image and they were able, with the computer’s help, to keep track of the dot that was supposedly Staci as it went up the coast. It passed many other dots, other animals that they knew nothing of yet, before coming to rest almost eighty miles away near the coast line, right at the edge of the maximum range of the camera image.
Allie brought up a new image on a different monitor. “That’s it for the record, Masters, but I focused another camera on that area and fed it the same processing information. It’s a live feed.”
Both men looked at it. It was indeed the same stretch of coastline, and in the middle of the image lay a reddish, white dot in exactly the same position as the record had shown.
“That’s her?” Bob asked, barely breathing.
“That’s her, Master. And by her heat signature she’s still alive.”
Bob closed his eyes, thanking whatever Gods were listening. “Dick,” he said, “release her. Get her out of those straps and chains.”
“Why?” Janis asked.
“Because she has just earned a break, dammit! Those things are hurting her, she isn’t used to them and I want her released!”
“She had better get used to them, if she knows what’s good for her,” said Janis, folding his arms.
“Dick, this woman has just done the impossible, and I want her comfortable. Lock her up another way if you have to; just do what I ask before I go get something to cut her free with!” Bob said, ready to follow up his order with his fists.
Janis looked him in the eye, smiling for some reason. “Angry, Bob?” he asked.
Bob felt suddenly confused.
Janis chuckled and reached for his keys. “Okay, cunt, I guess it’s time to free you up a bit. I’m sure my guys would appreciate a break with you as entertainment. You’ll find them down in the Mess.”
Allie didn’t know if being freed right then was a good thing or not. But she silently waited until all the chains were undone, although Janis immediately locked her hands behind her, and then she awkwardly left the flight deck for her fate.
Janis moved to look at the display again. “That’s a long way. You planning to walk? I doubt a truck would take you that far from town.”
“No. I’m planning to fly. Let’s get ready to go, we can drop down right on top of her and pick her up,” Bob said, his eyes fixed again on the dot with Staci’s name.
“Just like that, huh?” Janis asked.
“Just like that.”
Janis shrugged. “Sure. We can do that. But not yet. I want to finish up here first, and we have another day to go.”
“She might not be there another day,” said Bob.
“Then we track her again. We’ll get her, and we’ll get whatever took her.”
Bob really didn’t want to wait, and had a strong urge to just board the shuttle and take off. But he held it in check.
“Okay, but get your crew in gear. No time for pussy breaks.”
Janis chuckled, “Bob, there’s always time for a pussy break!”
Staci groaned and opened her eyes, seeing nothing for a few seconds until the image resolved itself into a mud wall. It was a familiar wall, as if she had seen it many times before, but Staci couldn’t remember why it was familiar. She thought about moving, about looking at something else, but she felt so damn tired. She also felt cold and sticky and figured she had better pull the covers up before she caught something. With an effort she turned her head to look for said covers and froze. There was someone…no, something, looking at her. It was big and hairy and reminded Staci of…
A stab of fear entered her heart and the adrenalin rush helped her wake even more, yet she still felt too weak to do anything about it. She now remembered Roy and his attempt to kill her and the thing that killed him! There it was, sitting not ten feet from her…watching her. Why, it could kill her at any second, any second indeed. Then it occurred to Staci that she should have been dead already. The poison from the thorn bush should have been her demise, but other than a body ache that wouldn’t quit and her lack of strength, she didn’t feel dead.
She risked a glance around the hole in the ground as she now saw it, and observed the two other furry giants watching her. All had their eyes on her, which made her nervous.
Movement at a hole in the roof just out of her line of sight, and another furry giant came in. It looked at her a moment, staring into her eyes, before moving to one of her companions and bending close. It looked to Staci as if the two were whispering, and her startled mind grasped the fact that what she was with was maybe intelligent. Were they the ones that cured her, she wondered. Why wasn’t she dead?
The two furry giants exchanged places and all was still for a while. Staci laid her head back, exhausted, and tried to come to terms with what was happening to her.
Where was she? Where were Bob and the rest of the Colony? Did they know where she was, who she was with? If they didn’t, were they looking for her? Just who were these…people? Obviously they had to be natives of this planet, but there wasn’t supposed to be intelligent life living here. But then, given what she had seen so far of their living conditions, it would be easy to miss them.
Then there was the big question, what was going to happen to her? What were their plans for her? If they had cured her of the poison then Staci had to assume they didn’t want her dead. So what did they want?
All these thoughts kept bouncing through her head until something else entered the burrow. Staci lifted her head to look and was quite startled. It looked like the giants, yet was different. Smaller by half, it had the same, nose-less face. But it had little or no long fur, instead being coated in a very tight knap that showed shadows of the distinctive patterns the long-furred ones had. It also had very short claws compared to the others and didn’t look nearly as menacing.
Staci wondered if it was the female of the species, or maybe one of their young. She tried to see what sex it was for it was obviously nude, but its body betrayed nothing.
The newcomer, seeing Staci awake, stood still for a moment before walking carefully toward her. Staci was a little alarmed by that until she saw what it was carrying in its hands. It was a bowl made of a large leaf, and there was water in it.
Staci licked her lips, suddenly aware of her parched mouth and throat, and knew she wanted that water. So she didn’t resist as the newcomer knelt at her side and tipped the water into her waiting mouth. Staci drank greedily, sucking it down as fast as she could. It felt cool and oh so good, and she felt worlds better after drinking her fill. She smiled at the unfurred newcomer who to her surprise smiled back, mimicking her expression. Then it got up and left, only to return moments later with another leaf, this time filled with some pieces of fruit and what looked like broken-up roots.
Staci shook her head, knowing that she couldn’t yet eat the local food, for Doctor Kelly’s genetic treatments hadn’t had near the time for such a radical change to her digestive system. She even managed a few words of protest now that her throat was lubricated, and she was surprised at how horse she sounded. But the native ignored her babbling and gently shoved a piece of fruit into Staci’s mouth with its three-fingered hands.
The taste hit Staci like a freight train, her mouth taking over and swallowing the fruit before she could stop it. It was incredible, better than chocolate, and she was too shell-shocked by it to refuse a second piece. Unable to move much, she knew she couldn’t stop them from force feeding her, and she hoped that she wouldn’t get too sick from trying to digest this wonderful meal. But once finished and left alone, she found herself keeping it down, and she began to wonder just how long she’d been out. Was it months? She didn’t think so. She could feel her fingers, and her nails seemed just the same length as they should have been.
She concentrated on moving an arm so she could see her hand and in doing so realized that she was still naked. This made her lift her head again and with the renewed strength of the food she had been given she took a better stock of herself. She saw she was lying in a shallow hole about the size and shape of a bed, covered in sticky goo. Her body was pretty visible through it though and she could see that it looked fairly normal, although still puffy in places. Normal that is except for the bruises all over her which explained why she hurt so much. She thought that she had been beaten, but then remembered that the poison caused your flesh to expand. Did that happen to her? If it did, then the flesh shrinking again would no doubt not be left in the best shape. Bruises could be expected.
She tried to sit up, aware that she was still being watched, and managed to get up on one elbow. She looked at her hands and feet and realized that something was missing. It took a few minutes for her fuzzy thinking to figure out what it was – her chains. She had been chained on the work crew, but not only the chains but the cuffs she had worn on her ankles and wrists were completely gone, as was the ring in her clitoris hood and the thin chain attached to it. She had worn those cuffs ever since being taken by Dick Janis aboard the Mayflower, just as she had worn her…collar. She reached up and discovered her neck was also clear, and a brief moment of elation was overshadowed by concern as she looked around for the missing items.
If her collar was gone, and she wondered how they had gotten it off, it meant that she was probably not in any kind of contact with the Colony, for all the women wore collars there. But that meant that they didn’t know where she was, for the collar contained a tracking device and without it they couldn’t track her. On one hand Staci was glad to be out of it, for now she was her own woman again, something she hadn’t been since boarding the Mayflower in Earth orbit. But on the other had her only chance of being reunited with humans again was now gone. Or was it? What did the natives want with her?
She looked at them. “Hi,” she croaked.
They sat silent, just watching.
“Do any of you…well…talk?” Staci asked.
Still they remained silent, and Staci sighed. She didn’t know why she expected them to be able to talk to her. It was always easier in those space operas she watched as a kid. You could always talk to the aliens in those.
Another furr, as she thought of them, came in. It glanced at Staci for a second before going to whisper with one of the others, and then it approached her.
Now Staci got scared, easy to do when an eight-foot furry beast with no nose and large claws walks right up to you, but she didn’t have the strength to do more than shudder.
It crouched down next to her and appeared to examine her, poking her gently as if to test the resilience of her body. It hurt to be touched, but Staci held back from pushing it away, because for all she knew this was the one that had saved her from being poisoned. Maybe it was their doctor?
If it was, then it gave the almost universal grunt of satisfaction that doctors give after an examination, and returned to confer with the others.
Staci knew that something was afoot.
The intercom on the wall began to buzz and Allie’s voice rang through. “Master Bob! Master Bob! Hurry to the flight deck!” she repeated over and over.
Almost in a panic, Bob headed to the flight deck as fast as he could, with Janis on his heels for the two men had been working together at the time. They burst into the compartment and collided with the console next to where Allie was now more comfortably chained.
“Master,” she said, pointing at her display, “she’s on the move again. Not far, but it looks like she’s heading to the coast!”
“What? Are you sure?” Bob said, trying to make some sense of the crowded display.
Allie punched a few buttons and the display cleared to show just an overhead map and a single dot with Staci’s name next to it. But one side of the picture was a bright band the same color as the dot.
“What’s that?” Bob asked.
“It’s the ocean. Right here it’s pretty warm, only twenty degrees off from our own body temperatures. These cameras just can’t resolve a temperature difference that small, so it looks to them to be the same temperature as Staci. The thing is, Master, is that if Staci goes into the water we’ll lose her. The computer won’t be able to track her anymore. She’ll be a part of the background and untraceable.”
Bob went white. He couldn’t believe that after having such incredible luck in finding her, that they were about to lose her again. “How long, do you think, before she gets that close?”
Allie shook her head slowly. “I don’t know, Master. Honestly I don’t. Maybe a few hours, she’s not going that fast.”
Bob turned to Dick Janis. “We’re going down, now!” he said.
“We’ve still got work to do up here,” Janis said, shaking his head. “We can leave this evening, but no sooner.”
Bob moved quickly in the Zero-G of the cabin and grabbed the front of Janis’ jumpsuit, propelling the man into a console. Bob then pulled Janis directly to his face.
“I’m not asking, Asshole, I’m telling. We leave in thirty minutes, and anyone not aboard by then can stay up here. Got it?” Bob growled.
“Aren’t you being a little overdramatic over one cunt?” Janis said with a slight smirk. He then gasped as Bob tightened his hold even more, and Janis could see that the guy was about to explode. He would have laughed if he could breathe, but instead he nodded. “Okay, okay. I’ll gather the troops.”
“And release her!” Bob added, pointing at Allie. He let go of Janis and headed for the airlock.
Janis watched him go and then turned his attention on Allie. “Tell me girl, are you damn sure about all you’ve told us?” he asked, moving over to her and placing a hand on her naked thigh.
Allie resisted shuddering, her shoulder already carried a bruise from when she flinched from Janis’ touch during their break. “Yes, Master. I’m pretty sure.”
“Pretty sure. It’s just that…if you’ve been experiencing…well…mental blackouts, or…periods of confusion…” He looked her in the face and saw that he had hit the mark. He was pleased because he had been beginning to worry. He chuckled and slipped a finger into her sex for a moment. “Don’t worry about it. I trust you. Come on, I’ll undo the chain but you had better go straight aboard the shuttle, or else!”
“Yes, Master,” Allie replied, and closed her eyes to his touch.
The shuttle did leave when Bob said it would and everyone managed to be aboard. But it was a two hour drop because of where the Mayflower was in its orbit and for each minute of those two hours Bob feared that they were going to be too late. To compensate he put the shuttle into a faster, steeper re-entry, carving a wall of flame across the sky as the atmosphere slowed the shuttle down, and soon they were over the area where Allie said Staci was heading.
At first they cruised around, looking out the windows but there was no sign of her, so they landed and took a look around while Allie patched into the Mayflower computer for the latest images.
“Any sign?” Bob said impatiently.
Allie was feeling flustered, so it took her a couple of tries to bring up the data files she wanted, and the news wasn’t good. It seemed that about the time they were streaking through re-entry, Staci speeded up and reached the shoreline, only to disappear into the water. At that point the computer lost track of her and even if she came ashore just a mile further down the beach it wouldn’t have known it. As far as the cameras aboard the Mayflower were concerned, she was gone.
Bob was at the end, he couldn’t believe they had been that close and lost her. He started to scream, to pound the walls of the shuttle in a display of temper that would have shocked his friends. Then he focused on Allie who sat cringing in her seat.
“It’s your fault, bitch!” he said. “You could have kept better track of her, found her faster. But you must have fucked up somehow! YOU LOST HER!” he yelled, diving for her. He had her by the neck and she couldn’t stop him because of the bondage Janis had her in, and for a moment the other men aboard just watched in shock. But Janis got out of his seat and grabbed Bob, pulling him back and away from the girl.
“Hey, guy…back off, pal! Back off!” he said. “Take it easy…we need her, you can’t go around wasting women. Not till we breed some more at any rate. Take it easy, calm down!”
Bob did calm down, slowly, but surely. And as the fog lifted he felt shocked at his loss of control. He didn’t know what was coming over him lately, he didn’t feel like himself, and put it down to the shock of losing Staci.
“I’m, sorry,” he mumbled to Allie, before pulling free of Janis and exiting the shuttle. Janis followed him.
“You okay?” he asked, truly interested.
“I’m…fine. I didn’t mean to…I wasn’t going to kill her. I just…”
“Yeah, it’s okay. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress over the past week. Don’t worry, I won’t arrest you for attempted murder,” Janis said with a smile.
Only then did Bob remember that Janis could do that. It was not a pretty thought. He sighed and looked out to sea. Somewhere out there was Staci, close enough to touch almost.
“What do I do now?” he asked out loud.
Janis shrugged. “She got away, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Face it, pal, if you had really meant anything to her, would she have escaped? Would she have run the moment she saw us getting close? She sure as hell would have see our re-entry the way you were flying, I damn near thought you were driving straight for the ground at one point. She would have seen us and waited. That is, if she wanted us to find her.”
“What if she was kidnapped?” Bob whispered.
“What, by aliens? You don’t really believe that do you? So that girl plotted out a bunch of fancy dots on a screen for us to follow. The theory was sound I admit, but I know the equipment just as good as she does and I have my doubts about her accuracy. I think she promised more than she could give, so she told you what you wanted to hear. There are only two reasonable choices, pal. Staci either ran, or she’s dead. Either way, she isn’t coming back, and you’re going to have to live with that. We all are. Now come on, there’s nothing more we can do here and I want to be back in town for dinner. Its meatloaf night at the bar, isn’t it?”
Bob nodded, knowing that what Janis said was true. They had lost, and even if Bob was right and Staci was still alive but held by something…they still couldn’t help her anymore. Not now anyway. Yet there had to be another way and he couldn’t see just giving up.
He picked up a rock and threw it at the water. “This fucking sucks,” he said. “Come on, let’s go.”
The One had seen the stream of light across the sky and had hurried its pace. It had a suspicion about what it was, for many such lights had foretold the arrival of the strangers. The One suspected they were hunting for their tribe mate, to kill it. But the One wasn’t about to let them find it, at least not until it grew to be furred and could defend itself. In saving its life the One was now responsible.
So it picked up the pace, moving more quickly through the forest toward the shore, and the tribe speeded up with it. On its back was the stranger, its arms about the One’s neck, held in place by a vine tied around its wrists so it wouldn’t fall free. It was still too weak to walk, and the tribe couldn’t wait any longer to begin heading to the Holy Place, so the One carried the stranger like it would carry a child, except a child would have the strength to hang on.
There was thunder in the sky, far away but getting closer by the time the tribe reached the shore, and without breaking step they entered the water and began to swim. They had a long way to go, but the tribe was as at home in the water as they were on land, with only the very young unable to keep up.
Like otters or seals, the tribe swam on.
Staci was well aware by now of the tribe’s ability to swim. She’d been surprised earlier in the day when one of the furrs, the one she thought of as her doctor, had come to her again and pulled her wrists together. She tried to pull away as it wrapped a long thin vine about her wrists, binding them together, but she was unable to do anything about it. Scared, she was then lifted up high, brushing the roof of the burrow and placed on the furry giant’s back, her arms around its neck. It hurt to hang like that, and she was terribly confused until they got outside and she saw the rest of the tribe; nearly three dozen of the giant furrs with more than that of the smaller ones. All were out and heading in the same direction, and Staci saw a few of the giants with much smaller natives clinging to their backs. It was then that Staci relaxed, figuring that maybe she wasn’t in trouble, that this was just how they were going to move her as they made their way someplace.
Staci wasn’t that eager to go though, knowing that each time they moved it would be harder to track her down. Yet again she was at the mercy of others and unable to chart her own course. She had managed to get away from her human fellows, but not from her forced submission.
The tribe left the clearing, their burrows almost invisible to Staci, and set off into the woods. It was a bumpy ride for the human woman, although “Fred”, as she named him to keep him straight in her head although she didn’t know if it was male or female or even if that applied…Fred’s back was fairly soft and comfortable. Still it was odd hanging there naked, her ass on full view to those behind her, and she was glad there was no one around to see her like this, which struck her as funny, so she laughed.
Fred turned to look at her when she did that, his head almost coming all the way round, and Staci wasn’t sure if he was annoyed or just plain curious. So she smiled and he looked away.
The tribe maintained a steady pace until the unmistakable trace of a spacecraft on re-entry carved its way across the sky. Staci knew what it was, it had to be the shuttle, and she wondered if they had used the Mayflower to look for her, for unlike Bob she knew the scheduled flight to the great ship wasn’t for another couple of weeks…unless she had been out longer than she thought. In any case, it was important now to stop and wait for them, so she began to kick Fred in the…well, where his ass would have been if he had one, until almost absentmindedly he reached around and swatted her behind.
He looked up at the sky and Staci felt him tense up, then she hung on for dear life as he broke into a run. Never had she known an animal move so fast, and she had once ridden horses at full gallop. This was like riding a two-legged roller coaster as it weaved through the trees, ducking and jumping. From time to time Staci would also see the other tribe members running as well, and no one looked like they were having problems keeping up, even the small ones. This was normal for them.
When they got to the sea, Staci expected them to stop or go up the coast. But she got yet another shock when everyone plunged into the water and began to swim. A mouth full of warm sea water taught her to lift her head up and she pulled with her bound arms in order to ride a little further up Fred’s body. Fred didn’t seem to mind, instead apparently concentrating on his swimming style, which oddly enough was a perfect breast stroke. Around them the other giants also swam with a steady beat, while some of the smaller ones looked like they were frolicking, playing as they swam. This finally convinced Staci that they were the children of the furred ones.
But she didn’t think about this at that moment. Now that she knew she wasn’t going to drown, she sat up as high as she could and looked about for the shuttle. The fire of its re-entry was fading from the sky fast, and Staci knew that the shuttle could be miles away yet, probably close to the Colony if they weren’t that far away from it. But she looked for it anyway, and after a while she thought she saw something in the sky behind them, over the land that was rapidly receding in their wake. She knew then that the shuttle was indeed looking for her, and she wished her hands were free so she could wave. Yet deep down she knew it was futile, that there was no way they could see her in the water, and as the land finally disappeared over the horizon, she knew it was too late. Her only hope was that whatever trick they had used to find her, would work again. But she was too tired to try to figure out what it was.
The tribe kept going and she settled down to rest on the furry body that was carrying her, and let herself relax. The water actually felt very good, very soothing to her aching body, and what made it better was that it was washing away the gunk that was covering her. She wished she knew what it was they had put on her to counteract the poison, probably some native concoction of roots and berries, but it was messy and stinky and she was glad to be rid of it.
She was thinking such pleasant thoughts when she finally went to sleep and was surprised to find herself waking up still in the water, still on Fred’s back. It was full dark by then, and the other giants could only be heard as they swam, not seen. Yet the sky was ablaze with stars and a groggy Staci realized that this was a way she could figure out where they might be going.
Before first landing, one of Staci’s tasks had been to do a star survey, a map of the night sky. One of the items she had needed to work out was which star was the pole star and what group of stars could best point out the pole star to the naked eye. This was considered important because then if anyone got lost they could use the stars to at least figure out what way was north, as the Colony was going to be established in the northern hemisphere.
So, looking up, Staci searched for the cross of stars that pointed the way to where the north star was and saw that they were heading basically east. In Staci’s head she pictured a map of the nearby island chains, and sighed because there were an awful lot of them and they could have been going to any of them. All she knew for sure though was that they were heading away from the big island the Colony was on, which lay to the west of them. At least it was something, for if she ever got away from the giants she knew that she would have to head west. But how? She couldn’t swim this far, and she was literally without anything at all that could help. She realized that she had nothing of mankind’s technology on her. She was as naked as a human could get.
Dawn was breaking by the time the tribe reached land again, a tiny island not much bigger than the Mayflower by the look of it. Everyone stumbled out of the water and sat down to rest for a moment, and Fred undid the vine that held Staci’s hands together and set her down gently on the sandy shore. He barked out loud, an unusual sound, and several of the other furrs got up and headed for the undergrowth in the middle of the island.
Staci watched them go and then looked out to sea. Back there somewhere was Bob, and she wanted to be with him, but she could do nothing about it.
One of the youngsters brought her a leaf cup filled with water and Staci drank, thanking the child out loud. It didn’t respond though, it just ran away. Then Fred returned, holding what Staci took to be two red coconut-sized gourds. Whatever they were they had a hard, tough shell, and Fred used a long claw to puncture one before handing it to Staci.
Staci could see others drinking from theirs, the unfurred ones at least, so she tipped it back and took a sip. The milk inside was tart, not sweet, but not bad and she found it easy to finish. She was still worried about not being able to digest what she was given to eat, but just like the fruit she had been given earlier, she didn’t have any problems keeping the milk down.
There was a loud crack beside her and Staci looked to see Fred opening up a gourd with his large claws, splitting it up into pieces. He handed a piece to Staci, and she took an experimental bite, and then another, eating her fill and feeling better because of it. She needed to get her strength back, if only to gain some independence. As she ate though, she kept an eye on the other tribe members, and noted that many of them stared at her as they shared their own meals. Staci began to blush at the attention, after all being naked and stared at was still something she wasn’t used to, but then figured that as odd as they looked to her that she must look just as odd to them. She was certainly shaped differently in certain ways, none of them had breasts that she could see and she wondered how they managed without noses. How did they smell? Not terrible as the old joke went, in fact they had very little scent from what Staci could remember from her close contact with Fred. But there was nothing she could do to stop them from staring so she just tried to ignore it.
Then she saw something quite incredible. One of the furred natives was scooping up sand into its mouth, chewing on it as if it were food. This shocked Staci and she looked at Fred as if to point out to him what was happening. But Fred was also feeding on the sand, as were more and more of the furrs as the youngsters were now supplied with their own food to eat.
Some of the furrs avoided the sand, instead picking up small rocks near the scrub line and sucking on them, while others dug in the ground for something to eat. Staci couldn’t believe what she was seeing, she had never known anything eat sand before and she wondered if they were all sick. But it looked so normal for them to be doing this; no one was acting alarmed at all. So Staci had to assume that this was really what they ate. The furrs ate rocks.
This kept her mind occupied for a while until all were done with their meals, and while many of the furrs decided to curl up and sleep, a lot of the youngsters began to play, chasing each other and wrestling, or exploring the thin interior of the island. Even though they were an entirely different species, Staci saw that children still acted like children, and she had to smile. But she was feeling tired too and achy, so she lay back and tried to sort out her thoughts for a while, drifting into a light sleep.
The tribe slept on the beach for most of the day, although not all at the same time, and Staci slept too, but not as much. The sun was quite hot out in the open and fearing an all-over burn on top of her bruises she had to curl up in the only shade she had, which was Fred. The furry giant didn’t seem to mind though, and the two slept together for a while.
By evening almost everyone was up and looking a lot more energetic, so food was again passed around and all ate their fill once more, be it organic or mineral. Then to Staci’s surprise they began heading for the ocean.
Fred picked up the vine he had used on her earlier and looked at her. Staci, knowing she didn’t yet have the strength to hold onto him for another marathon swim, held out her hands and he bound them the same way as before and soon she was again on his back. They slipped into the water and continued their journey.
In this way, they moved for almost three weeks by Staci’s count, swimming from island to island, generally heading east, and spending one or two days on each one. Staci hoped that this wasn’t the tribe’s normal method of existence, and she had nightmares of being marooned halfway around the planet with no way of getting back. She also saw the irony in the fact that soon after she arrived at Freedom she had wanted just that, to be put down someplace far away and left alone. But now faced with the reality of it all, she wanted nothing more than to return to the Colony, even if it meant becoming a slave again. She would even welcome seeing Dick Janis’ face. But one thought occupied her mind the most: how Bob was doing. What was he thinking? What was he feeling? Did he really miss her, or had he found another woman by now…maybe Roy’s girl?
She ached to be with him.
When Staci came ashore on the big island, she was a different person from the one that went to sea three weeks before. Most of her injuries had healed, her skin now tight and well tanned, and she had her strength back. Every time the tribe had stopped she had worked to get back in shape, and the steady and surprisingly nutritious diet she had lived on had helped her heal and become a person again. She was now as strong as she ever was, physically anyway.
Mentally she still felt fuzzy at times, but that was hardly noticeable against her need to rejoin the other humans on the planet. She had tried in vain to communicate this need to Fred and some of the other furrs, but understanding was very slow in coming. She had even out of desperation, drawn pictures in the sand of the Colony buildings, as best she could anyway. She would point to them and to herself and then to the west, gesturing madly in an attempt to be understood. But Fred would just look at her and move away, although in one case he first poked at her drawing until it was destroyed.
Staci wondered if these people had evolved enough to recognize a three dimensional object in a two dimensional format. She had heard that seeing pictures was only achievable by a certain level of intelligence. But except for the burrow she had woken up in, Staci had seen little to think that the natives were very high on the evolutionary scale. She knew they communicated somehow, but they weren’t tool users.
So she had to travel with them, and now they had come ashore on a very large island, so big that it rose in the middle like a small mountain. It was the first real rock that Staci had seen on this lush world, and she wondered if the reason they came here was so the big furrs could get a decent meal. She was still astounded that they ate rocks and stones, and she wondered how they lived that way.
Still, whatever the reason for coming here she was glad to be out of the water for a while. The last couple of legs had worn on her nerves because of an incident that had cost the life of one of the youngsters.
As the tribe had been swimming along, Staci noticed a sudden commotion among the natives in the rear. She looked back and saw something large swimming in the water just behind them and her first thought was that it was a small whale. But whatever it was broke the surface a little and Staci saw it had a furry back with spines. As she watched, the creature turned and pushed against one of the youngsters that had swum too close to it, and immediately it began to scream in pain. The youngster lost its rhythm and began to flounder, thrashing the water in obvious panic. Some of the other tribe members moved forward to help it while others circled around nervously. Even Fred turned around to watch and Staci could feel him tense up under her. But before anyone could get close enough to reach the drowning youngster, the shape in the water rose again and Staci saw a long, crocodile-like jaw open up and grab the poor native. The water went red for a moment before both creature and youngster vanished, and all became still again as the tribe treaded water looking around nervously.
Then Fred barked once and everyone resumed swimming, putting a lot more effort into getting out of the area than they had before.
Staci, unable to help with the swimming, simply lay down on Fred’s back and started to cry. She had built a bit of a connection with the tribe over the past few days and thought the youngsters especially friendly. She could hardly believe that death could come so suddenly and so easily here, but thinking back to the loss of Jill and Priss at the Colony, she knew that death was everywhere here and counted herself lucky; very lucky in fact, for it suddenly occurred to her that the thing that took the youngster had attacked in a way that reminded Staci of her first day on the planet. Staci remembered being stung by something that had swum up to her and brushed against her. Had it been one of those things? If it had been, then Alan Kent had saved her from being a meal for those horrible jaws. She shuddered to think how close she had come to being killed that day, and from that point on the ocean didn’t look very inviting to her.
They arrived as dusk was falling and the tribe stayed on the beach overnight, eating and sleeping and building up their strength after the long swim. Then, just as Elvira was peaking above the waves, Fred and the others started walking into the brush toward the mountain.
Staci walked with them, glad to be moving on her own two legs and she wondered what they would find when they arrived at wherever they were going. Would it be someplace they would stay for a while? Or was this just another short stop?
She wondered because she had been thinking of a way she might signal the Colony as to where she was. She knew there was no way she could contact them directly, but it might be possible to let the Mayflower know where she was. She’d done a lot of thinking during the trip and figured that they must have used the thermal imaging cameras on the Mayflower to track her the first time. Nothing else made as much sense. But as an engineer she knew the capabilities of those cameras better than most and had no doubt that once the tribe had entered the water that first time that the cameras would lose track due to the warm sea water. Those cameras were built to track temperature ranges of thousands of degrees, so the tiny temperature difference between her body and that of the warm ocean water was beyond their capabilities. But if they were going to be here a while, it would be possible to make a mark that the cameras just might spot.
She didn’t think that they had swum out of the range of the wide-scanning cameras, even though they had come a long way, so it was possible that as the Mayflower passed overhead that it was still looking down on her. Staci’s plan was to build several huge fires, set in a pattern of some kind, probably a square; anything as long as it looked manmade and not created by nature. Then, when someone reviewed the imaging data, as she hoped someone was, they would see four dots of bright heat and know that someone was there. Hopefully then they would come for her.
It was not quite a desperate plan, but it was close, and Staci really didn’t know what else to do. The trouble was, she needed fire, and she didn’t know if the tribe was advanced enough to be able to make it. Being naked Staci knew she had nothing to make fire with herself, except her knowledge of basic survival skills, and she figured she might have to rely on that. But she also came up with an unexpected dilemma.
If these people didn’t have fire yet, would she be doing them any favors by giving it to them? After all, she could hardly hide what she was doing unless she left them, and she got the idea that Fred wasn’t going to let her go just yet. She got the impression he was waiting for something, but didn’t know what.
Anyway, she didn’t know if it would be damaging to introduce fire to a culture that hadn’t come up with it themselves, and Staci didn’t want to make problems for the tribe. They had saved her life, so she felt she owed them. But she knew that she had to return to her own kind, and her plan might be the only way.
But she felt she had some time yet before deciding, after all the tribe might know how to make fire and just haven’t bothered because they were traveling. So she followed along as the tribe walked up the mountain, moving slowly through the trees until they came upon a well-worn path that continued in the same direction they were going.
No one was surprised to see the path, from what Staci could tell, and the general air about the tribe was very relaxed. So obviously this was not a place where they expected trouble, which helped Staci relax a bit too.
The path continued to climb and then opened up into a wide plateau where Staci saw they weren’t alone.
Scattered about the plateau were dozens and dozens of burrows like the ones she saw on the other island, and mixed in among them were more natives…lots of them. There had to be hundreds of them, big shaggy furrs and their sleek children. It was a huge encampment. Unlike the tribe, who hardly made a noise except for the occasional barking, this larger group chattered in soft barks and growls. Staci figured it was hard to make a crowd completely silent, even an alien one.
The appearance of Fred’s tribe caused little concern by the natives that were already there, that is until they saw Staci. Then she discovered that it was indeed possible to silence so large a group as they all stopped what they were doing to look at her. Some of the bigger furrs moved forward, their body language threatening, but Fred also moved forward, going to each one and seemingly whispering in their ears. One by one he calmed his fellow natives and word seemed to spread for they all returned to whatever they’d been doing. Staci figured that the word was that she was harmless, nothing to worry about.
She felt claws at her arm and a tug. It was Betsy, the youngster who seemed to be the one that Fred had told to look after her. Staci had started calling her Betsy just to give her a name. Like Fred, it just helped Staci keep track of who was who. She chose the name Betsy because of her coloring; it was rather pretty and gave Betsy a feminine air, even though Staci had no idea if Betsy was really a girl. It just made Staci feel better to think that way. Betsy though, was obviously not going to be a child much longer. There was evidence of her fur starting to grow and Staci had seen her eat both regular food and the odd rock. She was undergoing a change of some kind and Staci was curious to see how it went.
But now Betsy was urging Staci to go with her and she and most of the tribe walked through the clearing to where several burrows lay empty together. This was obviously where they were going to stay. Before going into one though, Staci took a look around, searching. With a sigh she noted that nowhere could she see any signs of the natives using fire.
The One was happy they had arrived at the Holy Place, happy that its tribe had made the long swim although it mourned the loss of the child. Many times in the past a young one was lost to the demons that lived in the big waters, and the One took it as a bad omen that they had been unlucky this time.
But not all was bad, the rest had made it fine including the stranger, who now looked well, or at least as well as the others of its kind. It was now able to walk and feed itself; which meant that the One felt comfortable leaving it alone from time to time. Yet the One knew that it wanted to go back to its tribe, its entreaties were clear enough in the One’s head. But the One couldn’t seem to explain that it wasn’t safe, that it would most likely be killed by the rest of its tribe. Maybe when the stranger came of age and furred, then it would be safe.
But lately the One had wondered about that. Perhaps the strangers didn’t fur. After all, they were different. Perhaps instead of furring, the young ones lost their shape and grew flat. That seemed to make sense to the One.
But now they were at the Holy place and the Rejoining was close. It was good to spend time with the other tribes that were here, it had much to tell them. But first, as the late comer, the One listened politely to the news of the Great Dragon coming from the south, and of the new land discovered far in the east. Then it told of the strangers in the west and how they came out of the sky.
The other tribal heads listened closely to the news and wondered if strangers would appear in their territories as well. But the consensus was that they would be unwelcome, an upset to the balance, especially if they had no respect for life.
Some argued that it might have been better if the One had not rescued the young stranger, that getting involved with the strangers was a mistake. But the One held his position and the arguments stopped.
Then it was time for serious talk, the Rejoining was coming and they needed to be ready.
It rained for three days straight, so Staci put aside any thoughts of starting a fire and instead tried to find something to wear. It wasn’t easy, for the natives certainly didn’t have a use for clothes so there was nothing lying around that she could just pick up and put on. There was one time while wondering around the camp that was growing bigger every day, when she came upon a group skinning some animals for food. She thought she might use some of the pelts to make herself some clothes, but when she tried to gather a few together she was chased off none too politely. She found out later why they did that. It wasn’t to keep her out of clothes, but because they buried the skins of the animals they took to eat, almost with a reverence Staci thought was religious. So she resigned herself to using the local flora instead, and hunted in the rain for leaves and vines that she could use to make a skirt. The planet’s lack of grasses meant a grass skirt was out, but she figured she could do just as well with leaves.
While she looked and gathered she couldn’t help watching the natives. More and more of them came, swelling the group from a few hundred to over a thousand. If she hadn’t gotten to know them through her own tribe she would have been terrified. But the looks she got from all the newcomers made her nervous, so she never went far from where her tribe had made camp, and she was especially careful not to go out of Fred’s sight for very long.
She wondered why they were all coming together, for it had the look of something very organized, yet it was a mystery to her because she couldn’t understand how they all communicated. It didn’t seem like the few verbal sounds they made were enough to really call speech, but then she wasn’t an expert.
So in the end she retired to the burrow she shared with Fred, Betsy and a few others, and worked on her leaf outfit.
By the time the sun came back out she was done, but even she had to admit that it was a poor job. She didn’t have the skills and only a bare idea of the theory behind what she was doing, and it only took a day for it to begin to fall apart.
By that time Staci was beginning not to mind anyway, for her so-called outfit was attracting more attention than she was. In fact, she was pretty sure she was being laughed at, although she didn’t know why she thought that. The idea just seemed to float in her head whenever she was outside with a large group of furrs around her. So by the time she was introduced to the wallow, it was pretty much history anyway.
The wallow, as a place, would have been something that Staci would normally have avoided. Yet it appeared to be a sudden community favorite and she went along because her tribe did.
Rainwater running down the side of the hill above them had collected in an open depression, turning the soil into mud and attracting the natives like flies.
All those huge bodies had churned up the mud into something resembling thick soup and Staci was amazed to see them all literally rolling and swimming around in it. She was a little horrified when her tribe almost rushed in to join the mob, but once she was in she actually found that it felt somewhat nice. The mud was warm and smooth and helped to ease the few pains she had left. But it was so sticky that moments after she had arrived she was covered from head to toe and pretty much indistinguishable from the youngsters her size. For once she didn’t stand out, except for her breasts of course which no amount of mud could ever hide. But she was close enough in appearance now to truly enjoy herself with her new companions without being stared at, and even almost being drowned at one point by a furr who rolled on top of her, didn’t spoil it.
She was a part of a tired, yet happy group when she left the wallow and she didn’t bother pulling her leaf outfit onto her muddy body as they made their way to a nearby water hole to wash up. Nor did she put in on afterward when back in the burrow, for by then she knew her nudity really didn’t matter to anyone but herself, and it wasn’t as if she needed clothes. So feeling rather content she watched as the tribe groomed itself, the furrs acting very cat-like as they combed their furry bodies with their tongues. She wished she had a comb for her own hair which was getting quite long now since Bob wouldn’t let her cut it, but got instead the help of Betsy who groomed her like a mother cat.
That contentment only lasted into the night though, and as she tried to get to sleep curled up next to Fred in a shallow pit full of leaves, she thought once more of Bob and her desire to get back to him.
Fire. She would have to do it.
The next day however, she would forget about her plans though, because of something quite extraordinary.
The morning was much like the others, with Staci out with the youngsters gathering fruit and roots for their first meal. Staci had discovered what fruit it was that she had loved so much and usually looked for more of that. But each day they had to walk farther into the interior of the island, and Staci knew that soon the entire place would be picked clean. Something had to happen soon, she knew, or else anyone who didn’t eat rocks was going to starve.
So it started when they got back to the camp. The tribe was waiting for them and they followed along with all the other tribes as the entire community began walking up the mountain once more.
The walk made Staci nervous for none of the furry giants made a sound and their young were almost as silent. Only the babies, which Staci was seeing more and more of, made noise, and as the natives approached the summit even they got quiet.
What Staci saw when she got to the top made her stop and stand open-mouthed.
The crater was maybe three hundred meters wide at the top, and about fifty meters deep. It was ringed around the sides as if seats had been carved into it, and it indeed give the impression of a huge amphitheatre as the natives moved into it, for they all took their places like a crowd going to an aeroball game.
But it was what was in the middle that made Staci stop, for it appeared to be a twenty meter high statue of a furr with both arms raised. It was well done, certainly not the work of a professional sculptor, but smooth and well sculpted all the same. The icing on the cake though was the large green crystal embedded in the heart of the statue. It looked to be bigger than Staci’s head, and she wondered what it was.
She was wondering lots of things by now, and she didn’t move until Fred gave her a push. So she followed along in a daze until the tribe found their seats.
It took a little while for everyone else to arrive, but Staci figured that every native on the island was there when the last stragglers sat down.
One furr at the front stood up and walked toward the statue, and if it were possible for a silent crowd to grow even more silent, this one did. It was as if they all were holding their breath, and even the wind was still.
Staci took hold of Fred’s hand and he looked at her for a moment, his strange flat face not giving her much confidence. Then he turned away and focused once more on the statue, so Staci did too.
The furr now standing under the statue, raised its own arms in imitation and very quickly so did everyone else. Not understanding yet not wanting to show disrespect to what was obviously something very important to these people, Staci did the same. Then the chanting started.
Staci couldn’t make out what was being said and half suspected that most of it wasn’t being said at all, at least in a way that she could hear. But the chant was hypnotic and Staci couldn’t help staring at the statue.
Images started passing though her mind, flashes of thought and feelings: an ocean view she knew she hadn’t seen before; the taste of copper; the feel of live flesh pulsing under her claws; and other things that she had no reference for describing. She could feel herself going…somewhere, and it even seemed to her that the green crystal heart in the statue was glowing. But that wasn’t possible, was it? It was so hard to tell, so hard to see. Her head was so full yet so empty at the same time and she couldn’t focus…couldn’t think…couldn’t breathe!
Staci woke with water dripping on her head and she rolled over to get out of its way. Drumming on the roof told her that it was still raining, and the sound of distant thunder spoke of worse weather to come. This wasn’t good news. It had been raining steadily for almost a week now and the longer it did the longer Staci had to put off her plan. Not that she was so enthusiastic about it any more. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go home, but more that she was filled with a sort of lethargy that left her feeling drained, unambitious. It was quite unlike her and she wondered what was wrong with her.
One thing she could fix though was the grimy feel of her skin. Sleeping on a bed of leaves in a hole in the ground wasn’t exactly conducive to cleanliness, so she decided to grab a shower. She tiptoed around the other occupants of the burrow, some sleeping and some still awake, and crawled out into the open.
The rain was hard and still warm, and the naked girl walked out into it, letting it pelt her skin and wash away the grime. The wind was picking up and looking south she could see lightning in the distance, the promised storm.
Her eyes on the horizon she sat on a rock and let her mind drift, thinking once again of the events of two weeks before. She couldn’t figure it all out, there were too many strange things, but what she did know gave her pause.
That the natives were telepathic was obvious. It explained their lack of a real spoken language, but that they spoke at all puzzled her. Where they evolving into their telepathy, or away from it? In any event, what happened the other week showed her the power of a thousand telepaths working together. She didn’t remember much of that day but she was sure that what happened had something to do with their beliefs…and also their survival as a species. She had flashes of memory, memory that wasn’t hers and she figured that just being among them had been enough to see what no other human being had ever seen. Staci didn’t know if she was honored or cursed.
But either way she was stuck with a group that communicated in a way that was beyond her. Yet…she had a sneaking suspicion that she wasn’t totally out of the loop. There were times when she seemed to feel what they were doing, times when just for the briefest moment she would get a flash of something. And now, after the…Rejoining? She had those flashes more often.
Rejoining. Where did she get that thought from? Somehow it made sense to her. All these furry giants and their children, coming together to share their experiences mentally, to join with the others as they have done before. It all made sense to her until she thought about the venue for the event.
Staci distinctly remembered the amphitheatre, the seats carved into the side and the great statue in the middle with the glowing green heart. But when she went back there a few days later she found it a lot different. The crater was still there, but it was rough and overgrown and certainly had no seating. And in the middle there wasn’t a statue, just a tall stack of rock which from a certain angle could have once been a figure like the one she had seen.
So what happened? Had she just imagined it? Or had she been receiving the cumulative imagination of everybody else? Was she seeing what they saw?
She wished she could talk to someone about it, but to her regret there was no one, and her urge to get home remained strong. But the weather was conspiring against her.
A furr came by, its cat-like eyes narrowing when it saw her, and it stopped. It looked a lot less menacing in the rain with its fur all plastered down, and Staci wasn’t really afraid of them any more. But the attitudes of some of the other tribes worried her a little. They seemed ill at ease with having a human around. But most of them were gone now anyway, the bulk of the tribes leaving during the few days between the Rejoining and the start of the rain. What was left was stuck here due to the weather for the seas were too rough for even these people to swim through.
As the tribes left Staci saw that some trading had gone on. Most of the youngsters the tribes came with either stayed or left with a different tribe. Even most of the youngsters from her own tribe were gone, including Betsy, replaced by other native youngsters who now had to get used to Staci the way their predecessors had.
There was a flash of teeth and claws in her head and Staci blinked. The furr with her was looking out to sea and Staci got the vague impression that it looked at the approaching storm like it was some kind of beast. But it lost interest with what was happening miles away and it turned once more to look at Staci.
She held still, not wanting to provoke the furr, for it evidently had an interest in her that was stronger than normal for its kind. She looked at the patterns in its fur and wondered if she had seen it before, but they were hard to read when wet. Then she froze as the furr approached her.
It examined her face, then her body, poking at her breasts and arms. It seemed to be testing her, although Staci got nothing mentally from it to tell her why.
A moment later though it moved away and disappeared into the veil of rain.
Staci started breathing again and headed back to her burrow. She had a strong urge to stay close to Fred for a while.
The Dragon came.
It came with a hunger to rival the size of the world and the ground trembled with fear. The Dragon was strong and loud and it tore at the land with its great claws, roaring its anger and lighting up the sky with its blazing eyes.
The One knew it was helpless in the face of the Dragon, that nothing could stand up to it but the earth itself. All the One could do was to huddle with its tribe mates, hiding from the great flashes of light that carved across the sky. It hoped that by hiding in the earth, that the dragon would pass them by and find food elsewhere.
But the stranger, it was not afraid of the Dragon. The One saw it stand while others hunkered down, its face into the Dragon’s breath. The stranger looked fearless, its long hair blowing back from its otherwise hairless body. For once it looked powerful instead of vulnerable, and the One wondered what courage it possessed for it to take the Dragon so calmly.
Another roar and some of the youngsters whimpered in misery. But the One saw the stranger just look around before climbing out of the burrow. It stood in the wind and the rain, arms up, and yelled. And the One saw defiance, excitement…pleasure.
What was so scary about the Dragon? It made lots of noise and its anger was strong, for sure. But in the end it never took anyone, no matter how many times it came. Could the stranger be right in defying it?
The One made a decision and stood, surprising its tribe mates. It struggled against the wind as it left the burrow to stand next to the stranger. It was so small and fragile looking next to the One, but the stranger was teaching it something about courage.
The stranger looked at the One, then raised its arms just like in the Rejoining and it yelled once more.
The One, after a beat, did the same and the two, human and native, together defied the Great Dragon.
The fire burned strong, giving off a blackish smoke as the unfamiliar wood crackled and cooked. Two long weeks had gone by after that night in the storm where Staci suddenly found herself with company as she storm-watched.
Staci liked storms, the violent kind that is, and the weather that hit the island that night had waves tens of meters high crashing into the shoreline. The lightning was also incredible as was the thunder, and she wasn’t surprised that not another furr was in sight. She figured them too primitive to really understand that it was just nature, not the animal they thought it was. So she was surprised to see Fred with her and happy that he chose to stand and yell into the rain as she often did. It had been a happy time for her and had also rejuvenated her.
But it had taken two weeks for the storm to pass and for the island to dry up enough for her to start building her fires. In fact, her project almost got aborted by one of the last tribes to leave the island.
She had been close by the burrows of her own tribe that afternoon, and the furr that had examined her before the storm walked up to her and took her arm. Before she knew it she was being dragged away and Staci started to yell and scream in fear. Her struggles were successful enough in that she managed to break free, and she made a mad run for her burrow with the furr in casual pursuit. Fred must have heard her screams though because he came out of the burrow and caught Staci in his big hands, moving her behind him.
Like a little girl peaking around her mother, Staci watched as Fred and the other furr had a sort of conversation. She had flashes, not so much pictures as maybe insights into what they were talking about for it was, for them, a heated conversation. Staci thought that the furr considered her a youngster, and that like the others she should switch tribes and go with him. But Fred was protecting her, stopping the other furr and eventually it went away.
Staci was glad for many reasons. But the main one was because she couldn’t afford to lose track of Fred. He was the only native she knew of that knew where Staci lived, and if all else failed Fred was her last chance of getting back to the other humans on this planet. Lose him, and Staci would be lost forever. And so she stayed with Fred the rest of the day until she saw the other tribe head to sea.
Staci wondered if her own tribe was leaving soon, but it appeared that they were staying a while when it became apparent they were the last ones there. So Staci decided to start her fire project, hoping that the furry giants wouldn’t be too scared of what she was doing.
So she combed the island looking for dry wood which was difficult at first, but easier going once the strong sun started to dry everything. She dragged and pulled enough wood together to make four large bonfires about fifty meters apart, arranged in as accurate a square as she could manage. She then spent two hours turning theory into fact by rubbing her hands raw with two sticks. But she succeeded and soon there was fire, burning bright and hot in the first of the bonfires. It was her plan to light them all at once and then keep them burning for as long as she could. Hopefully they would be scanned by the cameras aboard the Mayflower and someone would see that four fires in a square couldn’t possibly be natural.
Her actions had attracted attention though, and as the first bonfire caught and started to burn, the tribe showed up. All of them stood a short distance away, watching the flames, and Staci wondered what they were thinking. She had, at one point, entertained the thought that they may think her a God for creating fire, but dismissed it with a chuckle. Although it might have been nice to have been the naked human God of planet Freedom. She would have had the tribe take her back to the Colony carried on a throne, where she would then proclaim that all the women were free and in turn enslave the men. It was a fun fantasy, but a fantasy was all it was for she was sure that the men had a firm grip on the women of the Colony by now. Things had been going bad there for a while before she left, and she wondered how things were now with her being gone for almost two months or so. What new degradations had Dick Janis forced on the women, and was Bob now a part of it? Still, as bad as it might be, Staci still wanted to go back. She was an outsider here and always would be, but even as a slave she would still be a part of a human community. It was almost enough, she thought.
The tribe did nothing as she stoked up the fire and pulled from it a burning branch. She needed it to go start the next one and she hoped that no one burned themselves while she was gone. As it was she didn’t get far. She was intercepted by Fred just a short distance away, who knocked the burning limb from her hands and stamped out the fire.
“Hey!” she yelled at him, trying to salvage it, but he pushed her away, keeping her away until it was out. Then Staci heard a rush of footsteps behind her and the rest of the tribe attacked the burning bonfire. They pulled it apart, uncaring of any burns, screaming and barking as they did so. They stomped on the scattered burning branches, squelching the flames while Staci looked on in shock.
Of all the reactions to the fire she had thought of, she hadn’t expected this and she began running, yelling at them to stop. She needed the fire, it was her ticket home, but they were destroying it, putting it out and she couldn’t understand it. She began hitting them, pushing them, but it was no good. They were all too strong and too single-minded in their task, and in the end she stood crying, held by Fred, as the last of the flames were extinguished.
For good measure they also tore down the other pyres and then they went back to their regular routines.
It was a long time before Staci understood why they did what they did that day, and why every time she tried to begin again they stopped her. But on that day she lost hope for a time, and a part of her seemed to die.
They were still on the island eight months later, although by that time Staci had stopped counting. She was thinner and sleeker than she was a year before, her muscles stronger and well defined. Her blonde hair was long, having grown quite fast because of her diet, and had gone from a shipboard length of above the shoulders to down past her buttocks. It had also turned almost white due to all the exposure, for except for at night when all slept in the burrows, her days were pretty much all spent outdoors.
There were the occasional storms, and for a short while it grew so cold that she wished she had clothes, but generally it was warm and sunny.
Staci grew to be an expert on the flora and fauna of this and the other nearby islands. She knew what to eat and what to leave alone. She knew how to catch the little marsupial rodents that were a part of her diet. She could fish like a native although she had learned how to fish with a spear, something that made the furry giants nervous although they left her alone when she used it. She could hunt and gather and completely sustain herself, and if she chose to leave the tribe she would have had no problems surviving until she was old and grey.
But that wasn’t what Staci wanted; she wasn’t going to settle for it. Every day she prayed to return to her own people, and while she had great affection for many of the furrs, especially Fred who watched over her, she could not explain the loneliness she felt. Even though she was surrounded by friends, she had no real connection to them.
But that was changing, and had been changing for months. Not long after she had finally given up on the fire idea and had dealt with her depression, she found herself thinking about their telepathy. She knew she was receiving parts of what they were talking about, especially if a lot of emotion was involved. And the Rejoining proved that she could receive a lot more than that. So she figured that it might be possible for her to learn how to be a better telepath herself, so maybe she could talk Fred into taking her back, or at least not be so lonely anymore.
So she started meditating, sitting on a sandy hillock every day, guiding herself slowly into a Zen state that allowed her to plumb the depths of her mind. She ignored the possibility of failure and just let each day come and go; knowing that eventually she would succeed. She did have promising indications that she was doing the right thing, for as the months passed she found she could consciously hold on to an image, or influence a furr’s behavior by thought alone.
But she had to be in her Zen state to do so and it was not something easily achieved. It was frustrating, but it wasn’t as if she had anything else to occupy her mind. It was either that or mope around thinking of the worlds she had lost, the one across the sea and the one across the stars. Each was as out of reach as the other, and she felt like a cosmic castaway, living naked without a single human artifact to remind her of her past. She wondered what would happen if she stayed with the tribe for years. Would she forget that she was human? Would they? Would she think that she was just an odd-shaped youngster who never seemed to grow up?
Staci sometimes thought she was going mad.
But if nothing else, her meditation was holding her together, so she continued on.
Feeling at loose ends one day, Staci was wandering around the crater where the Rejoining had taken place. It looked little like the vision she must have shared with the other natives, but the place still intrigued her because it didn’t look quite natural either. What events would create a bowl-shaped hollow on top of an island with a large, humanoid shaped pile of rocks right in the middle of it? It wasn’t right. So she came back often to look at it, and she had even tried meditating there a few times to see if what ever magic the place had was still there.
It certainly meant something to the natives, for they treated the place almost like a shrine. There were no flowering plants on the planet, so instead they would sometimes come with fruit or interesting looking rocks, piling them at the base of the rock formation. Staci knew that the local wildlife would later come pick the offerings clean, but the furrs didn’t seem to notice, or if they did they didn’t mind.
There was a pile of offerings down there now and Staci wandered down to look at it, noting that some of the bits of rock and stone looked almost like gold. Then a thought struck her and she looked up. She had never actually stood between the legs of the formation before, not wanting to get too close because it looked old enough to collapse at any second. But there she was right in the middle now and it occurred to her that she had never tried meditating there. So she looked up to position herself right under the formation when she noticed with surprise that the thing was hollow. Not only that, but there was something green deep inside.
Staci stood quietly for a minute, thinking about what she was seeing. Green, the crystal from the vision was green although there was no sign of it now. No sign but the green thing inside this supposedly natural formation. She knew she couldn’t get inside to check, she had no way of reaching the crotch of the formation where a large hole beckoned, but still it gave her pause.
What if it was true? What if the crystal was really there, buried deep inside the chest of the formation? What would happen if she tried to meditate here?
Staci was keen to find out and she dropped down cross legged where she stood, her bare butt resting on the warm stone. She closed her eyes and slowly slipped into her Zen state.
She was looking through the eyes of the statue of Rysa, staring out beyond the mountain at the great circle plain. There was no ocean, no water to be seen except for the river Themn snaking its way across the countryside.
The city of Themnes covered much of what she could see. It was a place of towering structures and immense wealth. Flying machines buzzed around the sky like bees around a hive, and its teeming populace made the city seem alive.
All was good, all was prosperous, but then came the light from the sky, the moon. It was torn apart and driven out of orbit by mistake, an experiment gone wrong. It hit the world and the world died in a flash of heat and cloud of dust. Then the water came, flowing freely from the poles which no longer held the ice of the world.
A massive wave washed away what little the heat had spared, and only a few survived. Then the darkness came and the rain that wouldn’t end, and all that was known was lost, the world immersed.
No one wanted to remember, no one wanted to tempt the Gods again. To go down that dark path once more only invited more death, and the children of planet were not yet ready, not ready for things like what happened in the past, or what was happening now!
A scene change, a well-lit room with a table and people. Staci was surprised to see that she knew them, they were Colonists. On the table was a young woman, naked, her head hooded, her belly large with child. She had a heavy chain attached to her collar that ran down to a ring welded to the wall. She also wore heavy chains on ankles and wrists and her nude body showed bruises and whip marks. Her legs were lifted and locked into stirrups that held them wide apart, and Staci could see that she was about to give birth.
There was no sound, she could only watch as Doctor Kelly and a naked and chained Anna took the girl through the delivery, while other men watched. Anna looked beaten, not physically but mentally, and she moved like a robot. Kelly too looked like he carried the weight of the world and of all the men in the room he was the only one that seemed concerned for the health of the girl on the table.
The other men, Staci saw Alan Kent and Dick Janis among them, talked quietly and watched, as if this were just an animal giving birth and not a real human being.
Staci could see the agony in the girl’s movements as the baby came out, and Anna hardly had a chance to weigh and measure the newborn before Janis moved in. He took the child and opened the blanket it was wrapped in, revealing to Staci that it was a girl, and he took from his pocket a tiny green ring.
Staci saw with horror that it was a collar, a baby-sized collar, and she watched helplessly as Janis closed it around the newborn’s neck before handing it back.
The vision changed again to show a group of nude women digging a ditch. All were chained heavily and not a back was unmarked from some sort of whip. But there was something wrong with the line of women, something Staci couldn’t see for a moment. But then it was there, right before her eyes. Not all the women were women, some of them were native youngsters as enslaved as the rest. And standing on a ridge above them, gauss rifles in their hands, were Janis and his men.
One more change, this time to an open glade in the forest somewhere. Staci could see that this was a place where the furrs lived for she could see them doing their daily activities. But then they started to fall, one by one, their flesh exploding. From the surrounding trees came the men, filled with a bloodlust that gave them no quarter, firing their gauss rifles on full automatic. Staci watched horrified as they slaughtered the furrs, leaving behind only the smaller youngsters who were immediately clapped into irons before being dragged away. And in the middle of all this carnage was Dick Janis, a thin smile on his face.
Then the scene changed once again to show a moon, a moon that was no longer there.
It was dusk and Staci woke with a start and she knew right away that what she had seen was both past and future; that the Colony under Dick Janis was going to bring the death of the natives. She remembered all she had seen and she knew now why the Yahshi, for that was their name, wouldn’t let her have fire. A race memory, so old they had no idea where it came from, saw fire as the first step down the dark road of technology. As a species, they were not ready to take that road yet. The Yahshi were not a species in their own prehistory, they were post history, in the dusk of their life. But there was hope for them yet, unless the humans spoiled it for them.
Staci knew this now, but the memories were fading quickly. She felt that very soon it would all be gone and all she would have left were her own conclusions about what she saw, and she also had a feeling that she wouldn’t be allowed to have this vision again.
She looked back up at the statue, for that was what it really was, a statue thousands of years old built at a time when its civilization was at its height, and she looked for the green glow but it was gone. She sighed. There was little left in her head now, but there was enough for one more task, a task she had to take for it was no longer her own desire that she return. Something bigger was telling her what might be, and she knew she had to stop it.
She found the One near the burrows, and it looked as if it was expecting her.
“I want to go back to my people,” she communicated to it, finally able to do so.
“They tried to kill you,” the One replied. “You are too young to defend yourself.”
“I am full-grown for my kind, and I will defend myself. You have taught me much, I thank you.”
The One thought nothing for a moment, nothing it was willing to share anyway. Then it blinked its cat-like eyes. “You will go back and die; we do not want you to die.”
“I will not die, I must go back,” Staci pleaded as best she could. She wondered if she should tell it about the vision she had, about their possible future. But she suspected that it already knew she had experienced something in the Holy Place, for it wasn’t surprised that they could now communicate. Did it need to know? She decided not to tell it. “I’m…lonely,” she finally admitted.
Again the pause as the One considered this. “I will take you back,” it stated finally.
“Thank you,” communicated Staci, and the words faded too.
End of this Section.