FICTIONAL LIFE

 

 

ARION

©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame

 

Chapter Fourteen - Final Destination

 

Dr. Kathleen Ruston walked across the camp grounds on all fours, leaving the hustle and bustle of the galley tent behind her. A small bonfire of native wood was burning within a pit dug into the soil and several Furs were there to enjoy a familiar campfire experience. 

The straps of Kate’s bib overalls trailed on the ground beneath her, but she did not seem to notice. Her attention was on the placement of her footsteps, creeping silently among the crater weeds toward where the surveyed area of the “town” would go. Leaving the camp lights behind, her sensitive feline eyesight adjusted quickly to the darkness.

When her padded feet and hands reached where the weeds had been cleared away, she stepped upon a thick layer of soil, but she did not stop there.  The African lioness continued out across the land for several long moments before she finally stopped and rested on her haunches with her tail curled around her feet. She turned her gaze toward the cloudless sky and looked up at the glittering canopy of stars overhead.

Here, away from the lights of the encampment, far from the lights of the crowded cities of Earth, the sky was crystal clear over this new, virgin world that until now had been untouched by the hand of mankind.

Dr. Kate had seen the stars from the Mohave Dessert, she had seen them from the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and she had even seen them from the McMurdo Research Station in the Antarctic, all areas far removed from an overabundance of light pollution. Until now, however, they had never appeared so bright, clear and numerous as she had ever seen them from the Earth.

There were so many visible stars that it was almost difficult to recognize some of the old constellations among them, and even when she did, some of those profiles seemed a little misshapen due to the distance that Arion-1 had traveled from their familiar skies. The Milky Way was almost overwhelming in its immensity and she stared up at it in genuine awe.

As an adolescent, Kate had often dreamed of going out among the stars, and although they still looked as distant now as they had in her younger days, she had actually been “out there” — and was still out there. As astronomical distances went, she had barely traversed a tiny fraction of space to get to 51 Pegasi, but her heart swelled up with pride that she had come even this far.  It was a childhood dream come true.

As she absorbed the detailed vista, a brilliant streak of light shot across a portion of the sky only to fade out almost instantly.  She grinned a happy adolescent smile and made a silent wish upon the shooting star. Where its tail disappeared took her eyes almost right to Belle’s two daughters, the asteroid-caught moons they had named Deidamia and Laodamia – or Dei and Lao for short; always together, the satellites were currently waning crescent. Encouraged by the find, she searched the skies for the only other planet in this solar system, but she was unable to find Dimidium, the gray gas giant. Since it was closer to the sun than Bellerophon, it had probably already set below the horizon. It would likely be this world’s morning and evening star.

Feeling really relaxed for the first time since she had awoken from her cryo sleep, Kate settled down upon the ground and rolled over onto her back so she could continue staring up into the night sky.  She lay there for several good, long minutes looking for Sol, their home star, but then something else caught her eye.

Something flew overhead. Something large.  It was completely silent, but it occluded the stars when it passed across her field of vision.  Kate froze all movement, even her breathing became shallow.

At first she thought perhaps it was a trick of her eyes in the darkness, but then it happened again, several times. This time, she heard a faint whoosh that she was uncertain if it was the flap of a wing, but whatever it had been was not close to the ground, therefore it had to have been something very large.

The lioness suddenly felt vulnerable, laying on her back with her belly exposed.  She got up onto all fours with her senses trained on the sky above her, but she neither saw nor heard anything more.

With a nervous swallow, Kate quickly loped back to camp where there was relative safety in numbers. The perimeter fence should keep out anything coming at them from the ground, but they had no protection against something that could fly over it. 

*** 

“No, Dr. Kate. None of my drones flew over your position last night after dark. I had three out across the crater on patrol for nocturnal life, but the distance of the closest to camp was five point two three miles. None of my drones are equipped with stealth dampening and you would have heard and identified one before it reached your position even without your enhanced hearing.”

The lioness looked out into the morning rain from the tent quarters she shared with Ken Robeson, silently noting that the only muddy areas across the camp were where the crater weed had been removed. Everywhere else glistened with the warm rain.

“Thank you, Arion. Did any of your drones find anything while on patrol?”

“Small swarms of bioluminescent insects analogous to moths consistently flying four point three meters above the surface of the crater, following one of the snow runoff rivers to the northeast. Light from the camp was visible from their position, but none of them displayed attraction to the illumination from that distance, but that could be due to the fact that they made their own lights. None of these have been observed during daylight hours.”

“Could a large swarm of these account for what I saw last night, thick enough to block out the stars?”

“That would be a possibility, but you saw only a silhouette, not an orange glowing mass undulating across your line of sight.”

“True. I also heard a slight whoosh, which was probably not hundreds of tiny moth wings flapping in unison. In my opinion it was a large wing of some kind.”

“I will endeavor to broaden the range of the drone scanners during tonight’s patrol to search for anything that would fit your description.”

“Thank you, Arion. I may not have been in any danger from whatever it was flying overhead, but I don’t want to take the chance of something trying to carry off any of the smaller livestock, or even one of our children.”

“Fully understood, Dr. Kate.”

The lioness peered out through the rain.  She could see a furman here and there trying to dart between the drops among the tents, but for the most part the camp was quiet and still.  As it happened within the rainforests of Earth, this downpour would be short-lived, but until it stopped, there was little they could do with their duties. Having spent time in the Amazon, she knew this was likely to be a daily occurrence.

Kate had not yet had her breakfast or coffee; the rain had begun only moments after she had awoken to Ken murmuring in his sleep.  She looked back inside the tent to the pallet where they had slept, and the cougar was currently curled up as if he was a large housecat amidst the blankets. Although there were plenty of tents for all individuals, they had opted to share one since each provided plenty of room within.

She smiled, fond of the feline captain, and was pleased with the relationship that had developed only weeks after they had all discovered their transformations.  It had surprised her as much as it had him, and although she had always liked the tall black man, it was only recently she had begun to see him in a new light.  No doubt their feline instincts had played a role in that.

Her attention was drawn back to the outside.  Almost as abruptly as it had begun, the rain stopped and the overhead clouds had already started to break up and move on, allowing morning sunlight to peek into the crater. 

*** 

“Dr. Manhigh. I have retrieved the canister with the crater weed sample from Omaha’s portside airlock.”

“Thank you, Arion.”

“Using thrusters, I am putting fifty yards of space between Omaha and my waldo. It is unlikely there will be a destructive reaction, but protocols recommend safety precaution.”

“Fully understandable. Proceed.”

“I am in position now. Thrusters holding at station-keeping.”

“My sensors are active. Go ahead.”

“Opening canister now.  The crater weed has instantly frosted over from moisture on the leaves, which have turned pale. No other reaction.”

“Reseal the canister.”

“Sealed within a vacuum. Returning to Omaha to secure canister within the airlock. You may retrieve it the next time Omaha returns to the surface.”

“Thank you, Arion, my friend. This is appreciated.”

“You are welcome, Dr. Manhigh.” 

*** 

Dr. Antony Fernando awaited his last client. The entire crew had been fully decanted and he was ready for his final post-awakening counseling session. Arion had informed him that Dr. Kazama and his nurse Jessica had finished up with the teenage girl who had been the first to report in when they were still at El-Five, which made her the last to come out. She was now being scanned for clothing and fingerprints, and would join the counselor momentarily.

Whitney Marker was one of the younger crew members who had shipped out on Arion-1, but her parents would be joining her later from Arion-2.  She was only sixteen, but Dr. Kate had authorized the girl traveling alone so she could get some hands-on training in animal husbandry before her folks would later join her in those duties.  Despite that Whitney was well-liked among the colony personnel, she had always held confidence issues, but the mission program that her family had volunteered for had given her a purpose in life and she had begun to have a better self-image.

While he waited, Fernando used a hairbrush to groom his striped tail. Its fur was voluminous and it had the annoying habit of picking up bits of lint and other detritus from the ship’s deck, so he found himself cleaning it often.

A tentative knock on the open door of his office heralded his final visitor, but when he looked up with a smile to greet her, he had to fight to keep his expression from faltering. The teen girl’s transformation had turned her into a cow, or rather due to her age, a heifer

She was a bovine hybrid and the morose look in her eyes told him that he would have a greater challenge with her than he had with even the more difficult clients he had already seen. She also clutched an orange sleeping blanket around her middle as if she were nauseated.

No girl wants to be called a cow, much less be a literal cow, and her job in the colony would be working with the cattle they would be raising as food. The breed they had brought with them was Texas Longhorn, and both bulls and cows grew impressive horns.  The teenager who appeared at the door already had a head-start on hers, so getting her out of her cryo-pod must have been quite an endeavor for Dr. Kazama and Jessica.

He was about to speak, but then the unexpected happened. She dropped her blanket to the floor, revealing her naked form to him. Instead of a pair of human breasts upon her chest, however, what she had was the beginnings of what would later become an udder, with four nubs that would grow into teats, all located far down on her abdomen, just above her crotch. The short hair covering her body was a coloration mix of dark red and white.

There were tears in her eyes as he looked her over, unable to look away, but after a moment she bent to retrieve her blanket. She pulled it back up, wrapping it around her shoulders and then clutched it around her middle. In all this, she had not said a word, but her expression spoke volumes; she would rather be dead. 

*** 

Dr. Kazama picked through his meal with a pair of decorative chopsticks he had brought with him. Arion had made for him a bowl of katsudon when the physician had said “Surprise me!”  A deep bowl was filled halfway with white rice, with strips of panko-breaded chicken, onions and a fried egg on top. A slice of daikon radish topped it all and then it was covered with a lid to trap in the steam and juices to permeate it all.  The river otter had not had this particular meal in ages and had dived right in with gusto.

Dr. Fernando sat across from him at the galley table, and as an omnivore, Arion had prepared for him the same dish. It was his first time eating this meal and he discovered that it was rather tasty, although he used a fork instead; he had used chopsticks before, but somehow was unable to manipulate them with his new fingers.

“I’m glad that’s over,” the skunk murmured between bites. “Everyone’s testy or afraid, although there have been some downright amused with their new figures.”

“I can’t say that I’m amused,” the physician replied, “but after my time in this new form, I like it.” He looked up at his companion with a smile. “When I started to get older, I found myself getting tired of the mug I saw in the mirror every day. Although this one might not have been the one I would have initially chosen if I’d had the choice, I do find it an improvement over my previous face.”

Fernando scratched at his muzzle with a clawtip. “I’m glad to hear it. I’m still getting used to mine, but I think I could grow to like it.  None of us are born with a body we probably would have chosen, so it’s better to accept what we have been given and make the best of it.”

He glanced up toward the ceiling, idly wondering why he did that, and spoke to their overseer.  “Arion, have you had any issues dealing with us in our changed forms?”

“Only with some unintended side effects of having fur-covered personnel on board.”

“What do you mean?” Kazama asked with a furrowed brow.

“The facilities on each of the rotating decks that everyone has been using since awakening has experienced blockages of fur in the plumbing, as well as in the air handling filters. The cleaning robots have also found tufts in the hallways near the baseboards and have been working overtime to clean up balls of fur since your decanting. Some have been clogging the vacuums hard enough that it has taken the articulated limbs of the waldo to clear them out.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Fernando muttered before taking another mouthful of his meal.

“I guess that’s what happens when you have a zoo loose in a closed system like this ship,” Kazama added.

“Aside of increased maintenance,” the SI continued, “I have had no issues with the personalities associated with the new crew forms.”

“What about the Bonavitas?” Kazama asked.

“Fortunately for myself, none of their ire has been directed at me.”

“Lucky you,” the physician muttered.  The counselor looked at him with a shared expression, but his professionalism prevented him from verbally agreeing with the otter. Instead, he tilted up his bowl, using his long, thin tongue to capture the last of the rice kernels. When he finished, he looked up at his companion with a smirk, just imagining how animal-like he must have just appeared.

“Along with my furry transformation,” he said, licking his lips, “I have discovered that my tastes have changed as well. I still like a lot of the foods I used to eat – at least those I’ve tried since decantation – but I’ve found some things that don’t appeal to me anymore.”

“Like what?” Kazama asked curiously.

“Coffee, for one, and that’s been my biggest disappointment.  I used to drink it every morning as my daily start to the day, but now I can’t stand the flavor. It’s too bitter to my new taste buds.”

Kazama nodded. “I can still drink it, but I have to doctor it up differently in order to enjoy it.” He gestured at the counselor’s voluminous tail. “Do you have any grooming issues with that?”

The skunk wrinkled his nose. “I have yet to find a soap or shampoo that doesn’t make my fur feel gummy or dry,” he complained. He looked up toward the ceiling again. “Arion, I know we brought along a few dogs to help herd the livestock. Did we pack any pet shampoos for their care?”

“No, Dr. Fernando. Nothing of the kind was included in the manifest, although I have in my archives the formula for a popular Mane and Tail shampoo utilized on horses and humans alike.  Mr. Ansara is particularly fond of using the bottles he brought along with his personal effects.”

Kazama looked up in amusement. “Maybe you could recreate and distribute it among our personnel as Pelt & Paws shampoo.”

Fernando grinned. “As long as it will work on a skunk’s fur, I would be game for that.”

“I will give the suggestion due consideration.”

“Thanks, Arion.”

“I guess no one thought we would need anything like that,” Kazama remarked.

“How could anyone know we would become living fursuiters?”

“I meant no one thought we would need them for our pets.”

“Ah, it looks that way.  Once those dogs are decanted, they’re going to have a fit when they see the bunch of us!”

“If we brought any, all of the cats will run away and we’ll never see them again,” Kazama laughed. “The perimeter fence won’t hold them in!”

Fernando chuckled with the levity, but their line of thought reminded him of something else. “I think I would be surprised of some if our people don’t want to do the same thing.”

“Climb the fence and run away?”

“Talking with them all, there are some of the prey types who are afraid the carnivorous personnel might look at them as a meal.”

“That would be a natural reaction, I should think.”

“Yes, but I’ve also talked to a few of the predator types who have admitted to having those exact instinctual feelings.”

“Okay, that’s makes for potentially dangerous atmosphere.”

“Oh, I agree,” said the counselor, “but I have tried to reinforce the notion that we are not just animals, that we still have our human intellect, morals and sense of decency. The temptations may be there underlying the surface, but we will all have to resist temptations as we have always done.”

“Yes, but this isn’t like trying to resist eating a fattening piece of pie.”

“No, it isn’t, but it’s more akin to resisting the urge to punch someone in the neck or put a knife in them when they’ve done you wrong. We may now be hybrid animals, but we don’t have to act like them. We’ll have the species behavioral instincts of our base animals, but we’re also still human and know the difference between right and wrong. This is what I have been trying to strengthen during our counseling sessions.”

Dr. Kazama crossed his arms and nodded his head. “Let’s just hope you were successful. If we cannot reverse these changes, and I don’t see how that can ever happen, we’ve got to learn to live with who and what we are – and with one another.  This isn’t the wild where anything goes.”

“Doctors,” Arion said in the brief lull, “Secretariat has docked for refueling and will be ready to transport you and the rest of the crew down to the surface in forty-five minutes.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Fernando responded. He stood up and picked up their meal bowls and utensils for cleaning. “That will be just enough time to pack my bag and gather up the last of the decanters.”

“Likewise. I have a few medical supplies to pack up to take down with me, but most of what we’ll need has already been sent down to the camp.” The otter glanced around the room and then got to his feet. “Arion, I don’t mind the ambiance of your ship, but I prefer fresh air and sunshine. Jessica’s already down there, but I’ll be glad to set up my practice on the ground.”

“Quite alright, Dr. Kazama. We can still converse through your devices as needed.” 

*** 

Secretariat released its docking clamps from the interstellar ship and small attitude jets pushed the shuttle plane away to a safe distance. The only personnel still aboard Arion-1 were those loading each of the shuttle trucks with all equipment and supplies brought from Earth.

Moments later, Joe Kittinger dipped Secretariat’s tail toward the planet and dropped below the interstellar ship.

“Welcome to Secretariat Airlines,” Kittinger’s scratchy feline voice came over the cabin intercom. “Flight time to Camp Belle will be approximately two hours, ten minutes. Just sit back and relax.”

“Is Camp Belle the name they chose for the town?” Ginger Martin asked.

Dr. Kazama shook his head. “No, that’s just our pilot being himself. We haven’t chosen a name yet. I think they’re waiting until everyone is on the surface so we can discuss names and take a vote.”

Dr. Fernando looked around the small cabin and scratched an ear. He had the feeling that there should have been more on this flight, but he could not think of anyone not with them. It was just he, Dr. Kazama, Ginger Martin and Victoria Barbicane. He knew that Rod Vincent, Angel Celeste, Ethan Edwards and Dave Gordon were still onboard Arion-1, so maybe that was throwing him. There should be no one else on the interstellar vessel.

I am so glad to be heading to the surface, he thought to himself. He knew that hard physical work awaited them once they got established in the camp, but he was actually looking forward to that. Like Dr. Kazama, he missed sunshine and a breeze blowing across a lake.

Elsewhere in the cabin, a red fox vixen and a gray she-wolf had their heads together in quiet discussion and Fernando smiled at the irony.  Ginger was a gray wolf, yet it was Victoria who had the ginger-colored fur. What the two of them did not know is that as a Fur, the skunk possessed hearing that was more sensitive than a human’s and he could hear everything they whispered to one another.

“Are you and Barry Sandon still together?”

“I hope so. I haven’t seen him since I awoke, but I’m ready to run my fingers through his wool.”

“Wool?”

“Yeah, I was told that he’s a sheep!”

“A wolf and a sheep!”

“Yeah, who knew, eh? I hope he’s ready to try out the logistics of that!”

“Logistics!  Ginger, that’s wicked!”

“Yeah, well, just because our bodies have changed doesn’t mean the relationship has to end.  What about you and Rusty?”

“Rusty?”

“Sorry, Dean Ruston. Didn’t you two have a thing together?”

“Ginger, I find him fascinating, but we aren’t a couple. We only had dinner a couple of times on Arion-1 after Rocky moved his kitchen to the ship’s galley.”

“Ol Rusty has been my work partner for a while. I think you and he would be good together.”

“He’s nice and we’re friends now, but I’m afraid we haven’t clicked like that. I wonder what kind of critter he’s become?”

“Do you want to know, Victoria, or do you want to be surprised?”

“Do you know?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me!”

“Dean Ruston is a Siberian husky.”

“Ohh, really? I’ve always liked those.”

“There you go. Check out his new equipment first chance you get!”

Dr. Kazama chirped and then coughed into his small fist.  “Ladies,” he said aloud, “we can all hear what you’re saying.”

Two pair of female eyes grew wide. “You can?” Victoria gasped.  She looked over at the skunk, who tapped one of his ears and nodded in agreement.

“Every word.”

“Ohmigosh!” the vixen replied aghast. She put her head down on her arms against the empty seat in front of her, embarrassed to her core.  Ginger simply exploded in laughter.

“Sorry, doctors!” she said. “You weren’t meant to hear any of that!”

“Obviously,” Kazama said dryly.  “We all have better hearing that we used to have. Keep that in mind the next time you engage in girl talk around other people.”

“You can bet we’ll never forget it now!” 

*** 

Four hours later, Dr. Kate watched as War Admiral touched down on the runway. In addition to another full load of material, the rest of the human (or furman) population of the crew was onboard this shuttle truck. There was still much to be brought down from the ship in orbit, and Captain Robeson had mentioned sending up more personnel to speed up the process, but for now, Kate wanted an all-personnel staff meeting on the surface.  Aside of those on board the shuttle, everyone else was now gathered in the galley tent, filling up all of the tables and chairs.  Rocky had graciously provided drinks and snacks for the mob, so once those on War Admiral came in on the work truck left for them, they could get started.

Ten minutes later, the zoological party that was mostly all felines entered the tent: an orange cat, a cheetah, a tiger, a standard jaguar and a spotted snow leopard, plus two rabbits all found seats at a table near the back of the room.  Pilot Sean Barringer gave Dr. Kate a thumbs up to signal they were all there so she could start the meeting.

“Good afternoon,” the African lioness said over the multitude of conversations in progress. “May I have your attention, please?”  Little by little over the next couple of moments, the voices quieted and all eyes were upon her.

She silently recognized that almost all of those considered prey species were sitting together at the front of the room. She did not know if this had been prearranged or if their herd instinct had kicked in naturally, but standing at the front of them all, it had not escaped her notice. Only the two rabbit pilots sat among the predator types, and she noticed with faint alarm that several of them seemed to be unconsciously licking their thin lips.

The opening of the tent was behind her and the morning’s rain had pumped humidity into the air, but fortunately there was a breeze blowing across the crater valley that helped keep them cool. She outstretched her arms, gesturing to them all.

“For the first time since Arion-1 departed Earth, we are all together again,” she said. “As I am sure that all of you have been notified by now, we lost two of our friends on the flight out due to the same issues that gave us all our unexpected transformations.  We have a few things to discuss right now, but after the meeting is adjourned, we will gather at a place we have chosen out away from camp by the perimeter fence to hold a burial service for Ms. Felicia Painter and Mr. Eric Frasier.”  She looked back at the lop-eared rabbit near the back and added, “Sean, would you see to it that their cryo pods are brought in from your ship after the meeting?”

“They are here in the back of the work truck we brought in from my plane.”

“Very good, thank you.”  The project director clasped her hands together and then gave her people a brighter expression.  “Okay, moving along - now that we are all here and awake, I would like to say Welcome to Bellerophon!  The ninety-eight of us make up the entire population of this pristine planet, and although some have already been working to establish our footprint here, we still have much to learn about our new home. Each day for the rest of our lives will likely bring us new discoveries, and even new dangers. We will do all we can to live with this new world, but keep in mind that it has its own rules that we will need to learn to obey.

“Don’t take anything for granted. This is not Earth. Everything from bacteria to larger life forms will be different, and each will make its presence known to us in time. We may find things that are similar to the things we’ve known, but be fundamentally different. We may even find things completely different or unknown to anything we have ever come across before.  It may be foreign to us for a while, but we’ll get used to it all and it will eventually start to feel like home.  Until it does, my friends, be wary, be on the alert, but know this – we are here to stay.”

She gestured to the cougar standing off to the side to join her at the front.  “For those of you still getting used to our new faces and bodies, you may or may not know who this is.  Before his transformation, you knew him as Captain Kenneth Robeson, commander of the stalwart ship that brought us here, Arion-1.  What you may not know about is a decision was made before we left Earth, that once we arrived at our distant destination and all personnel were decanted and on the surface, his role as ship’s captain would come to an end, and he would then assume new duties as the Mayor and Judge of our new town. Likewise, my role as Project Director will become Deputy Mayor as his second-in-command. He will assume the primary duties of the position and delegate tasks to me as needed.  If you have a problem or an issue, take it first to your department heads – if you have one, but then you can come to either Ken or myself if you are unable to find resolution at a lower level.”

A ginger arm with a black-furred hand raised for her attention.  The lioness nodded to the vixen. “Yes?”

“I am sorry, ma’am, but we just arrived and haven’t learned everyone yet.  Since you said you were the Project Director, does that mean you are Dr. Kate?”  Several people chuckled and the lioness smiled, but she held up a hand to quiet the crowd as the cougar returned to his seat. 

“She has a valid question. Yes, Ms. Barbicane, I am Dr. Kate Ruston. I apologize for not introducing myself first off since you haven’t seen me with my new face yet.”

The fox grinned. “I assumed it was you, but I wanted to be sure.”

“You have good timing, though, because this is a good lead-in for one of the other topics I was going to bring up.”  Kate looked around and casually gestured at the crowd.  “We have all changed. There’s no denying that, and as far as we know, there is no cure – no reversal of our genetic changes. From what I’ve seen of those I’ve spoken with, none of us are recognizable as the people we used to be. Our faces, our bodies, and even our voices are so different now.  Just as you did not recognize me standing here, you had to assume who I was due to my known practice to take charge and make speeches.  You may have worked with someone for years before we left Earth, but not know who they are standing beside you now.

“One of the first suggestions made to me when we all started having problems recognizing one another was to issue name tags to everyone. While this would help us learn who one another is, it’s not very practical to attach something like that to a person’s body hair or fur.  You may still need to introduce yourself to everyone you meet, but if something happens to one of us and we need to be identified, that could be difficult to do.”

“What do you mean, if something happens?” Emma Bonavita asked loudly.

“You have new bodies that you are still figuring out,” Kate answered, “and we’re on a strange new world. You might come across something that affects your new physiology and you could get a sudden sickness. If someone passes out or become violently ill, knowing who they are quickly could be the key to saving their lives or administering aid.  Until we all learn who everyone is amongst our population, we need some way for others to know who we are.”

“Do we need to start carrying wallets again with an ID?” someone else called out. “I left mine with my family on Earth!”  Kate did not see who it was, but she held up a hand.

“Not wallets, but we have discussed several methods of identification.  One is to have an encoded microchip inserted just beneath the skin at the back of the neck that can be scanned with any tablet or techwatch.” Voices raised suddenly, but Kate barreled on, speaking over them in a louder tone.  “The second method is for everyone to wear military-style dog tags with your name, species and other vital information engraved upon them.”  Again she had to talk over the other voices that threatened to take over the meeting.  “Or…” she practically shouted, and it was a moment before they all let her continue, “Or… we can all wear a simple collar around our necks with an identification tag on it.”

“You’re talking about tagging us like pets… like animals!” someone exclaimed.

Before Kate could take back the discussion, someone else called out, “Why not tag us like animals? Take a look in a mirror – we are animals!”

A red wolf stood up and suddenly let out a shrill whistle. He had had to practice making the sound with his new mouth configuration, and in time he had been successful.  The crowd fell silent immediately.

“Thank you, Will,” Kate said to the engineer.  “Now, I know none of these methods are ideal, but we will take a vote on it.  We do need some kind of identification, but it has to be something we will all wear for our own good!”  She held up her arms, showing her techwatch to everyone. “I want everyone here to send me a message with your vote on which of these methods we will use. Once I have a predominant tally for all of our numbers, I will announce what you all voted for.  Once we have that decision, we will all abide by it, whether or not you think it’s ideal.” 

Before she could drop her arm, tiny message pings began issuing from her techwatch. After several long moments, both the crowd and her wrist became silent.  She looked at the results and counted up the votes. Then at last she commanded everyone’s attention.

“We will all wear military-style dog tags. From the comments I’ve read, it’s unanimous that the embedded microchips are demeaning, and no one wants to wear a pet collar, so the lesser of these three evils are the military tags.  Some of you are Vets and will have been used to wearing them anyway.  I will have Arion begin printing them to the fabrication units, to be distributed as soon as they are ready.”

There were a few grumbles and low remarks throughout the crowd, so Kate gestured toward Ken.  “Do you have anything to add to our meeting, Your Honor?”

The cougar grinned at his new title and got to his feet. “Over the next week,” he said in a raised voice, “I want everyone to start thinking about what we should call our town. The committees on Earth left that up to us, but none of us on the command staff have come up with anything so far.  Think about it, but don’t get silly and suggest something like Fur Town or Furmankind Central, as I’ve overheard some of you calling it among yourselves. This is the first human settlement on Bellerophon, so its name should at least be respectful.  We’ll meet again in a week, and if we have any decent suggestions, we can vote on it then.  If not, we don’t have to be in a hurry to pick out a name. Something appropriate will come to us.”  He looked back at Kate and nodded. “That’s all I have for now.”

The lioness spread her arms again. “That concludes our meeting, so if you will follow us outside, we will bestow our final respects to the two who were unable to join us in our new lives.”

 

 

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