FICTIONAL LIFE

 

 

ARION

©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame

 

Chapter Twenty-Three - Whatsit

 

The ribbon-cutting on the town’s water tower was done with little pomp and circumstance. The crowd consisted of little more than the command staff and the workers who had built it, and the ribbon was a short red string held between two people that was cut with a regular pair of scissors.

While the tower had been under construction, another team had laid water lines throughout the parts of Tellus that would see the first buildings; a septic system and a small water treatment plant had also been recently completed

The station beneath the tower was put into operation and the pumps soon began drawing water from the underground aquifer through the filtering system and up to the tower reservoir. Providing pressurized water, they would now have indoor running water for drinking, washing and toilet facilities for each building as it was completed.

As the assembled crowd began to dissipate, the techwatches for the town mayor and his deputy both chirped at the same time. They exchanged glances and the cougar raised his up to his mouth.

“Yes, Arion?”

“Carson Weathers has reported sighting a new creature out by the Lake Gate, near the public park that he’s been in charge of putting in.”

“A new creature? How big is it? Does he think it poses a threat?”

“He said it is bipedal and stands taller than most of us.  It has been showing up outside the perimeter fence every day for the past week, simply watching their activities. It was a curiosity at first, but since it appeared to be non-threatening and made no move to attack the fences, the workers began to ignore it as nothing more than a part of the local scenery.”

“Did anyone report seeing it when it first showed up?”

“He reported it to Dr. Silvanus, the lead biologist.”

“Did he report anything? This is the first we’ve heard of it.”

“Dr. Silvanus said he went out to take a look, and he and the creature stared at one another through the fence for close to an hour. He took numerous notes and photos, and the creature seemed undaunted by the attention.  When he returned to camp, he made a report and uploaded the photos.”

An image of the creature appeared on the small techwatch screens.  “A four-armed, hairy dinosaur with large ears?” Kate asked in amazement. “Did he come to any conclusions?”

“Yes, Dr. Kate, but only in that its physical description appeared to be the same form of dinosauria that was reported by Mr. Clifton’s team about three weeks ago at the alien outpost discovered outside the crater mountains to the east.”

A written description of the creature appeared on their displays and they both took a moment to read through it.  “I remember this now. Was this the same creature, or another of its kind?”

“Unknown at this time, but images from both sightings depict similar markings.”

“Okay, so if Carson Weathers said it has done nothing more that watch them passively through the fence for days, what has changed that he needed to report now?”

“A few of the mothers and their children have been out to visit the new playground in the park, and the creature has shown a focused interest in the young ones. It has not acted aggressively, but it has begun holding onto the fence and watching with what he described as single-minded intensity.  Mr. Weathers does not know if the creature is a predator and presents a threat, but he is asking if someone can come out with a rifle to stand watch over them.  The playground equipment is all finished, but the workers are still employed at other areas of the park and cannot take the time to watch over the mothers and their children while they are there.”

“Have there been any others of this type?”

“No, Dr. Kate. It is only the one animal. No others have been sighted, not even by my roaming security drones.”

“Please inform Carson that I will come out with a rifle to watch over them,” Ken stated.  “My duties for the rest of the day can relax without me.”

“I will come out too,” said the lioness. “I want to see this thing, whether it’s a danger or not.”

“I have just informed Mr. Weathers that the two of you will be out there soon. He will be expecting you.”

“Thank you, Arion.”

Both lions made their way to the command tent and Ken went to a large gun safe in a corner of the interior room.  He unlocked the cabinet and pulled out a rifle and a box of ammunition. The mayor checked out the firearm and loaded it with rounds, and once he was satisfied, he slung it over a shoulder and pocketed the rest of the ammo. While was taking care of that, Kate had gone to procure one of the electric carts.  Built along the lines of a golf cart, this had a bench seat in front, but a cargo area in the back for crates or other supplies they may need to haul.  She had chosen one with a full solar charge and had it out in front of the command tent. Ken walked out and climbed up onto the seat beside her with the rifle across his lap.

Without a word between them, Kate headed out in the direction of the lake.  They passed over a bridge that had been erected over the runoff river and then bumped along a worn trail leading from the town proper to where the park was going in; an actual road would be built along this way at a later time.

It was not all that far, however; they could have easily walked there, but it would have taken longer than either of them wanted. The whatsit had not presented a threat, but with it showing an interest in the children, they could not be certain it was mere interest and not a predatory hunger.

The perimeter fence did not encompass the nearby lake, but one section with a vehicle gate was near one shore of it. This was close to where Barry Sandon had been killed, but since it was also the place where many in the camp liked to spend their weekends relaxing at the lake, its beach had become a popular place to visit.

When the cart pulled up at the edge of the park, a bobcat wearing only a pair of furman shorts walked out to them.  Several other workers were busy preparing an area cleared away of crater weed for Bermuda grass seed imported from the Earth. On the far side of the park area was a play area that used sand gleaned from the lake beach for the ground beneath the playthings.

“Thank you for coming out, Your Honor,” Carson said as they stood up out of the cart. “You too, Dr. Kate.”

“Please,” the cougar said wearily, “unless we’re in an official setting, call me Ken.”

The bobcat nodded. “Sure thing, Ken.”  He looked at Kate and then gestured out toward the play area. “Look out through the fence and you can see the thing,” he said. “It’s watching the kids, always watching."

"Have you tried to drive it away?" Kate asked, her tail twitching to match her mood.

“No, we have tools and materials, but none of us brought weapons,” Carson answered. “Until now, we’ve never felt like it was a threat.  It looks like a hairy dinosaur, but hasn’t behaved in a predatory manner.”

“Until now?”

“It’s still only just watching, but who knows what it’s thinking. The critters on this world are big unknowns, so I didn’t want to take a chance. Maybe I’ve just seen too many dino-movies.”

“Quite possible,” Ken replied with a smile. “We’ll check it out.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m going back to work.”

The cougar raised his techwatch. “Arion, we are about to get up closer to the creature with only the fence between us. Please monitor us with anything you have in the area.”

“I will be listening in via the techwatches, and will be watching from above with a security drone.  The perimeter fence pole sensors are active as well.”

“Thank you. Stay sharp.”

“As always, sir.”

With a round ready in the rifle, Ken slung its strap over his shoulder. The two of them stepped across tilled earth and approached the play area near the edge of the perimeter fence, safely out of the way of the hustle and bustle of the workers’ activities.  Typical playground equipment was spaced apart: slides, swings, monkey bars, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters and spring horses, in addition to an open area where kids could play in the sand and a wooden gazebo with seats for the adults to watch over them. A cooler of water bottles sat on a bench seat for those who got thirsty out in the sun.

There were only a few Furs taking advantage of the cool morning. The squirrel, Emiko Kirato and her young mouse Daisuke were both seated in the play sand, quietly building sand castles. Nearby at the monkey bars was a dingo, Jeanette Colton watching her kangaroo daughter, Kimmy skipping rope – an action surprisingly accomplished with large feet and a thick tail. Carson Weathers’ own son, Dale was a rotund little black and white panda cub, who sat quietly atop the monkey bars looking down at his hopping playmate.

A small flock of colorful, three-winged birds flew overhead and glided down to the water’s edge of the lake. These had become a common sight in the crater valley, although watching them flap the feathers of their tails in an alternating pattern with their lateral wings could be a mesmerizing sight.

The uncommon sight, however, was now studying the newcomers slowly approaching the fence where it stood with watchful eyes.  Ken and Kate stopped several yards from the fence, wary how the whatsit would react to them standing so close; Ken pulled his gun around and simply held it, pointed at nothing but the sky.

It was almost unnerving, the thing studying them, just as surely as the lions studied it. With a neck stretching three feet above its wide shoulders, it looked down through the twelve-foot fence at them. There were only a few inches between each of the horizontal fence slats, but the whatsit’s eyes watched them steadily.

“So, what do you think?” Kate asked her companion.

“It’s the largest indigenous creature we’ve seen locally since landing,” Ken muttered. “I think only Ethan or Emma could look it in the eye.”

“Really?” Kate retorted. “This one is more than eight feet tall! Our bears may be seven feet to their ears at the most.”

Ken twitched his tail behind him. “Okay, maybe that was an embellishment. If either of them had been a polar bear, maybe they’d be bigger.”

“Perhaps.”

They talked quietly for several minutes, and the creature’s attention was now fully upon them.  When it did nothing more than simply stare at them with slow blinks, Ken shrugged. “I’m going to go sit in the gazebo out of the sun and keep an eye on it from there.”

“Go ahead,” Kate replied, keeping her eyes on the strange creature. “I will stay out here a little longer.”

“Suit yourself, but stay off to the side a little, okay?”

“Why?”

Ken gestured with his rifle. “I don’t want you in my line-of-sight from the gazebo if this whatsit gets agitated by your staring contest.”

“Understood.”

The cougar walked away, but kept his head turned slightly to keep an eye on her as he walked. It would have been easier on all fours, but that was something none of them had mastered while carrying something in their hands.

Kate watched him for a moment, but when she turned back to the fence, the creature was gone. She was startled for heartbeat, but then she saw the whatsit over at the nearby lake shore beach. Its long neck moved back and forth as if searching for something, and then it knelt on thick knees and stretched out two of its arms toward the water.

When it rose up again, it held one of the pale green, grapefruit-like water plants that Will Andresen likened to a woman’s bosom. A single root dangled beneath it, and for just a moment, the creature’s gaze focused far out into the distance before giving its head a brief shake. Kate smiled at that, having once shared the feeling that thing had just experienced. What she did not understand, however, was why it grabbed that pliable plant specifically. Was it a source of food for it, or maybe pierced, the plant could be a water container of sort to quench its thirst.

She watched the whatsit methodically wrap the twelve-inch dangling root around one of its four wrists and then held it up against its body with that hand. Odd.  Once done, the creature returned to the fence, but did nothing more than hold the water orb and stare back in through at the lioness.

Kate put her hands on her hips, twitching her tail, and wondered what that was about.  However, feeling like Ken, she was at a loss for anything else to do at this time. The creature had made no acts of aggression, and since arriving at the fence, it was now more focused on her than it had been with the children. Even its fuzzy, cup-like ears seemed trained right at her.

“Well, my friend,” she murmured in the animal’s direction, “as long as you don’t present a threat, I suppose you can stay, but know that we will protect our children if you think you can make a meal out of them.”

The creature’s eyelids blinked rapidly several times and it released its hold on the fence to back away a few steps, its ears wavering back and forth.  Kate looked on in surprise. Its movements almost reflected as if it had understood her.

Well, she thought to herself, if that water plant allows it to feel my emotion, just as it did us, it may have understood that much at an instinctive level.  She snorted and shook her head with a slight smile. “Behave,” she said aloud, “and maybe we can be friends.”

With that, she turned and walked away. The whatsit approached the fence again and slipped the fingers of two hands into the slats to grip it lightly. It peered in and watched the lioness drop to all fours and walk away toward the wooden gazebo.

The creature seemed focused upon the two lions in the structure for a while, but then its ears shifted to the adult squirrel talking to her three-year old mouse. The mother pointed a finger at the child and said his name, and then waited for him to repeat it back to her.  Then she pointed a finger at herself and said the word “Mama”, which the young male repeated with a grin. From a cloth bag at her side, she picked out various everyday objects, told him what it was, and waited for his response. Each time he correctly repeated a word, the mother would clap her hands and praise him, and he would even mimic the clapping himself. Sometimes he would not get something right, but his mother only repeated it until he got it correctly.

When she ran out of items in the bag, she pointed to things around them; fence, rock, sand, foot, hand, ears and such.  When she said “ears”, she grabbed his large ears lightly and wiggled them, making him laugh and giggle.

The whatsit watched their exchange closely, even reaching up to lightly grasp its own ears.  When the squirrel got the mouse up onto his feet, she dusted the sand from his shorts and his leg fur, and then led him away toward the other mother with the two children she watched over.

The two mothers fell into a lively conversation and soon neither were watching over their young ones. None of them were really old enough to get into much trouble, but the little mouse started wandering from each of the playground things one to another. Each time he neared one, he would touch it with a hand and then say its name.

When he ran out of things to name, he looked toward the large gate in the fence.  He wandered over to it and put his hands on the metal, and then he noticed what no one else had.  The ground was uneven and the gate halves did not come together perfectly at that spot.

The boy edged into the gap and squeezed through to the other side without much effort.  He chittered in delight and then took a step toward the lake he could see nearby. The uneven ground beneath the awkward mouse’s feet was a mix of wet sand and gravel rock, and there were small washout gullies from drainage during the daily rains that fed into the lake.  The ankle of his bare foot turned on one of these and he stumbled. He fell over sideways and hit the ground, but it was soft enough that it merely stunned him.

The creature had watched the mouse with mere curiosity, roaming around the play area on his own away from others of his kind, but when the child fell over, the whatsit rushed over to his side. It crouched near him, but instead of taking what could be an easy meal, the animal stretched out its multiple hands with its claws retracted and began checking the boy for damage. It was methodical in its movements, and the mouse looked up at it in surprise and not a small amount of fear, but before he could break down into a cry, the creature put its head down close to him and made several noises at him.

The mouse blinked, open-mouthed, and then held up his little arms toward her. The creature picked him up in its arms and then held him close to its chest, just as it continued to do with the water plant it still carried with another hand.

Jeanette Colton looked away from her conversation with Emiko Kirato when her daughter Kimmy stumbled over her own large feet and let out a disgusted snort. The young kangaroo had tripped herself up numerous times, but instead of crying out in distress, the little female had developed an expression of disgust with herself each time.  Her dingo mother chuckled and helped the girl back up onto her feet.

During the interruption in the discussion, Emiko looked up for her own son, but did not see him right away. The little mouse was prone to wandering, so she gazed around the area, looking for a sign of his thin tail sticking out from behind the play equipment.

Her search came up empty and she began to feel concern. It was likely he had wandered out of the play area toward where the workers were preparing the rest of the park, but when she stood up and peered out toward them, she still did not see him.

She was beginning to panic and Jeanette got to her feet to look too.  Over in the gazebo, Kate sat alone, quietly having a conversation on her techwatch with the ship’s Synthetic Intelligence in orbit. Ken had taken a walk to find Carson for something that had occurred to him.

“Dr. Kate, I am hearing sounds of distress in the background,” Arion interrupted their discussion.

The African lioness looked up and it was only then she noticed the frantic mother calling out for her missing child.  Without responding to the SI, she jumped onto all fours and raced over to Emiko.

“I can’t find him!” the squirrel exclaimed. “I can’t find my son!

Kate’s first reaction was to look over at the perimeter fence, but she did not see the creature. It was not where she had left it, but then she scanned along the barrier and felt the blood drain from her face.

The creature was pacing slowly back and forth along the fence at the gate, and the mouse boy was riding upon its back!

She looked for Ken, but he was too far away, so she dashed over to the gate as quickly as her feet could take her. Sobbing in sheer fright, the boy’s mother followed right on her heels. Jeanette quelled her own reactions and gathered Kimmy and Dale to her closely for protection in case that thing came for them too.

When Kate and Emiko slammed up against the fence gate in unison, the creature stopped pacing.  Daisuke grinned and waved to his mother.  “Mama! Mama! Lookit!” the child said gleefully.

Emiko could not respond. Fear had paralyzed her vocal cords, but she shook the fence hard in her hands, which did nothing more than rattle it.

Kate was calmer, but only to a lesser extent, and she saw something the mother did not.  The child was safe, apparently unharmed and cheerful.  The creature still held the bosom plant in one hand, but with the other two, it reached up over its shoulders and gently grasped the boy upon its back.  Emiko froze her movements in sudden fear of what this thing was about to do to her little mouse.

The creature lifted the child over its ears and then set him down softly on the ground in front of its feet.  The boy ran to the gate and squirmed back through the gap before anyone could react.  He rushed to his mother’s arms, and it was then that Emiko burst into tears and clutched him to her breast.

The animal stepped up to the gate and with one at a time, it held up each of its free hands with all of their digits spread out. It then gestured toward the mouse with one of those hands, and in a surprise to everyone, it said, “Return something lost.”

Kate felt a ridge of fur rise up all along her spine. The creature had spoken! – and its words had been said in understandable English, albeit with a peculiar accent, no doubt in part to having to form the words with a differently shaped mouth.

Emiko gasped also and knelt to check her son closely, but she found no damage other than a smudge of earth in the fur of his forehead and typical dirt he always seemed to have on his little hand paws and knees. He seemed unhurt and in surprisingly good spirits.

She looked at the creature and regained her feet. She swallowed deeply, but then after a hesitation, she said, “Thank you for returning my son.”

“Wander away. See Die’sue’kay fall ground. Bring back to mother.”

Another surprise. “How – how do you know his name, Daisuke?”

“He told. I also watch you teach him speech. Learn too.”

Kate took it in slowly, silently focusing upon the bosom plant still held by the creature. “You… you learned our language by listening to Emiko teaching her son?”

“Ee’mi’ko,” it repeated, sounding out the name. “Some. Still good not. Plant help.”

Speaking in a slow cadence so the creature might be able to keep up with her words, the lioness put a hand on her chest. “I am Dr. Kate. Do you have a name?”

The creature sounded out what seemed to be “Sori Zaizen.”

“Sori Zaizen. Is that your name?

“Yes.”

“You have surprised us. Please forgive our fear.”

“Understanding. I fear first time see your people.”

“When was this?”

“Outside moun’tains, at out’post,” still sounding out some words until it got them right.

“That was when our team found the dome!”

“Outpost ruined.”

They had determined that the outpost dome was of alien origin, therefore this must be one of those aliens – not some mindless animal!  Kate reigned in her thoughts and answered calmly, “Yes, they told us. That was you they saw there?”

“Yes.”

“You traveled here from there?”

“Came see.”

Kate felt her heart rate slowing.  Emiko simply stood aside, clutching her previously-lost son to her as if he might run off again.  Daisuke sat there passively, quietly smiling at the creature as Jeanette and the other children slowly approached now that the apparent danger had passed.

“Well,” the lioness said after a moment, “welcome.  What can we do for you?”

“Please to talk. Questions.”

“You have questions, or think we have questions?”

“Yes,” said the creature.

Kate actually laughed at this, and in a surprise to the mothers, Sori Zaizen’s face lit up in a recognizable smile of its own.

Emiko quietly came closer and found her voice again. “Sori Zaizen,” she asked politely, “are there more of you around?”

“More of  – me?”

“Your people?  Your kind?”

Sori Zaizen dipped its head. “No,” it replied in a low voice. “No more my people here. Alone here.”

Kate looked at the two mothers. “Okay, I think we have things under control here. You can go now.”

No one moved.

“Please?” Kate tried again.  This time, the dingo led the children back to the gazebo, though they took their time to walk away. Kate glanced over at Emiko. “If you will excuse us also,” she said, “I will spend some time with our guest.”

“Of course,” and then to the alien, “Again, thank you.” In answer, the creature dipped its head.

“Bye!” Daisuke said with a smile and a wave.

As Emiko led her son away, Kate tapped a code on the gate lock panel and there was an audible thunk. She slipped outside, relocked the gate, and then looked up at the taller creature.  “Please walk with me.”

The creature approached the lioness and then walked alongside Kate as she led it on a stroll out along the lake shore.  Despite that she could hear the soft whine of Arion’s security drone watching from a safe distance above them, the feline was tense, on the alert for some sort of surprise attack, although she tried not to show it to the creature.

“Please to calm,” said the alien. “I no hurt you.”

Kate nodded with a knowing glance at the empathic plant still in Sori Zaizen’s arms. Assuming from her own experience with the water sphere, it had to have sensed her feelings with it. “Do you prefer to be addressed as Sori Zaizen, or Sori, or Zaizen?”

The creature blinked. “Sori is race. Zaizen is self. You may say Zaizen.”

“Thank you, Zaizen.”

“Doctor is race? Kayt is you. Doctor Kayt?”

The lioness was taken by surprise, but shook her head when she remembered how she had introduced herself out of habit. “No, doctor is my title. Kate is my name. Our race is called Human.”

“Hyu’man.” It gestured toward Emiko. “What is Emiko’s race?”

“She is also human.”

It gestured to the other adult.  “Race?”

“Jeanette is human. We are all human.”

“Hu’man, ah Human, yet not all look same.”

Kate nodded, seeming to notice the various anthro forms for the first time in days; she was already getting used to their anthropomorphisms just as people. “This is true, we do not. An accident during our journey caused us to change. It was not of our doing.”

“This journey … across the void?”

Kate looked up in surprise. “Yes,” she answered. “You know of such journeys?”

“Is how Zaizen here too.”

“You are not from this world?”

“No. Visit, as you.”

Kate fell silent as they walked. That meant this was no native creature, but an actual space alien! She knew she should be wary of danger from this unknown talking being, but she was strangely at ease walking beside it now and slowly relaxed without realizing it.

“Did you come here alone?”

“No. With others, but now I alone.”

“What happened?”

Zaizen stopped and gestured all around them. “Meet… mee’tee’or fall here. Outpost all but destroyed. Others perished.”

“I see. How did you survive the meteor impact?”

“Away far to survey, other place not here. Return find dead.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“Sorry also. Alone long.”

“How long have you been here alone?”

Zaizen stopped walking and looked perplexed, massaging the soft plant. “Know not your measurement,” it said after a long pause.  Again, it gestured to the crater walls surrounding this valley. “Before it fell.”

“We estimate that this crater was formed about twenty years ago.”

“Twenty?”

Kate held up both hands, each hand possessing five digits. “Four hands of this many fingers.”

Keeping the plant tucked beneath its elbow, Zaizen held up all four of its hands, each possessing four digits for a total of sixteen. “This many add extra hand.” 

Kate smiled.  “Yes, that is twenty.”

“Years?”

“One year is the amount of time it takes for this world to travel once around its star.”

Comprehension showed on Zaizen’s alien face. “Meteor fell twenty and three of years ago.”

“That is a long time to be alone.”

“Yes.”

“Zaizen – if you don’t mind me asking, why did you come to this world?”

“To explore. To learn.

“Ah, scientific research.”

The Zaizen took a moment to muse the unfamiliar words, clutching the water plant up to its chest. It had learned some English for rudimentary conversation in a short amount of time, and was learning more by the minute, but deeper discussions were still difficult.

“Not know words.”

“Sorry. Research is learning. Scientific is learning how things work, why they are, how they are.”

“Yes, Zaizen here for research scientific.” It paused to think again. “Here twenty and six years.”

“Did you find what you were looking for?”

“Learning always.”

“Are there other intelligent beings on this world?”

“Intelligent?”

“Sapient, uh – personal beings, thinking as we do,” Kate tried to explain, gesturing between herself and the Sori, and then tapping her head. She did not know if the Sori brain was in its head, but she could not think of another way of pointing to her mind. Zaizen did not seem puzzled by the action, however.

“No. Find life lots, but not intelligent. You first intelligent Sori finding here. Answer you now for me. Why Humans here? To find Sori?”

“Our world was over-crowded. We came here in hopes of starting new life in this place, and to prepare it for others to come later. We did not know of Sori. We did not know if any others lived here.”

“Why here?”

“We studied this place from our home, far away. It looked habitable, able to sustain us, so we began a journey long ago to get here.”

“What of accident during journey?”

Kate blinked, having already forgotten she had mentioned the reason why none of the humans looked like one another beyond that they were all bipedal animals.

“Do you know what radiation is?”

“Word, no.”

“Harmful elements out in space between stars, mostly unseen.”

“This I know.”

“The vessel we traveled in did not have sufficient protection against all radiation. It changed us, transformed us.” She held out her arms and let the Zaizen look her over. “We traveled with other life brought from our world, but the radiation mixed us together, changing us humans into a blend of us and them. Because of these changes, we now call ourselves Human Furs — humans combined with our furry animals.”

“Understanding. Sori same problems first journeys among stars. Later correct.”

“You were able to correct such changes?”

“Yes. Many researches.”

The lioness felt a surge of hope. Would they be able to return to normal with this alien’s help? 

“Do you know how to make the corrections?”

“Other Sori yes. I have not knowledge.”

Kate’s hope turned to disappointment, but she shook it off and changed topics.  “Do you understand genders?  Male and female?”

“Male are fathers, the seed makers. Female are mothers, child bearers like Emiko.”

Kate nodded. “Yes, that is correct.  Of my kind, I am female.”

Zaizen stopped and turned its tail toward Kate, lifting it and gesturing beneath toward an area bare of its iridescent hair to a fleshy fold. “Also female, a mother-bearer.”

Kate swallowed and chuckled nervously to herself for her human sensibilities of modesty. Although she preferred to go without clothing over her fur, she had no intention of baring her private areas to this alien in return. Instead, she resumed walking and Zaizen accompanied her back in the direction they had come.

They talked for some time, but the discussion began to falter when language differences grew more pronounced and Zaizen’s words reverted to inarticulate sounds in her own tongue. The Sori came to a stop and looked down at the plant she held. Its pale green color was fading to brown, and its pliable surface was beginning to wrinkle; it had been out of the water too long.

Zaizen crouched near the lake shore and unwound the orb’s root from around her arm. She placed the plant back into the water, making sure that it stayed afloat, and then selected another.  Once it was secure in her arm, the alien stood back up and looked over at the lioness.

“Now we to continue please.”

Kate gestured to the previous plant now bobbing quietly in the lake. “Will that one survive, or is it dead?”

“Not death yet. Water to revive in time.”

“That’s good to know. We discovered its properties, but only as a curiosity. We have not used it to communicate as you are doing.”

“Helpful tool.”

“Indeed.”

As they approached the gate, Kate saw that Ken, Carson, Emiko, Jeanette and the other workers had all gathered on the other side of the fence. The mayor’s finger was resting lightly upon the trigger guard of the rifle he held ready, but continued to hold it with the barrel skyward.

“Emiko told us what happened,” he said when she and her companion approached the gate. “Kate, are you okay?” His voice held a note of concern, and the way he said it made her wonder if he might think she was under the alien’s influence.

She put her fingers in through the fence slats and put her face up close. She looked steadily into his eyes and said, “Hello, Ken. I am okay. No problems, no coercion, just getting to know our guest.”

Zaizen stepped up behind the lioness and mimicked her action, putting the fingers of three hands in through the fence slats with her face up close to look through them above Kate’s head.

“Hello, Ken,” she said with a familiar-enough smile. “I, Zaizen.”

“Hello Zaizen,” the mayor replied automatically, but although he had been told beforehand that the creature could speak some English, it still startled him to hear an accented voice coming from this animal.  He looked up into the alien’s emerald-green eyes and could see the intelligence behind them, and the friendliness of a personality. No, he thought to himself, not an animal; another being.

“Thank to you for that,” Zaizen remarked with a warm expression.

“For… what?” he asked cautiously.

She held up the water plant so he could see, already knowing that he knew what it could be used for. “Kind thoughts of Zaizen.”

“Are you reading my mind?”

The Sori tilted her head, puzzled by his sudden guarded presence. “Mostly impressions,” she answered, “and emotion you project. Only working when hold water orb, but not always much right since your mind not like mine.”

“I see.”

“Helps put meaning behind foreign words we speak.”

“Your English, our language, is improving,” Kate remarked.

“Practice,” Zaizen agreed. “Will get better. I am good with such, but some difficulty separating impressions from many minds, many layers.” She glanced over the group of Furs that faced her through the fence. “Some kind, some wary, cautious. Some… hostile.” At this last thought, her expression was troubled.

Kate glanced over at the workers standing behind the cougar. She knew some of them by name, others only in passing, and only vaguely how any of them might feel about this alien. That was the problem with having close to a hundred people in the camp.  She looked up over her shoulder at her. “Our race has had many difficulties throughout our history. Sometimes it is hard to know who to trust.”

“Sad.”

Ken nodded. “Yes, it can be. Can we trust you?”  He knew that any human being could answer that question while lying through their teeth, and he had no way of knowing if this alien could – or would – do the same, but he wanted to hear her say it aloud.

“I trust. You trust. We trust. It is better.”

Emiko came forward and reached up to lay her fingers on top of the alien’s fingers. “I trust you,” she said with a relaxed smile. “You had every opportunity to harm my child, yet you did not.”

Zaizen’s expression changed to one of shock. “Why harm childling? Innocent.”

“That’s true,” agreed the female squirrel. “No one should willingly harm an innocent child, but sometimes wild animals might take the opportunity to take a defenseless child as a meal.”

“I no animal.”

“Yes, and I know that now. Please forgive me.”

“Forgive?”

“I apologize for thinking you were a wild animal. I am sorry.”

“Need no apology. You not know my kind before now.”

Kate looked in through the slats at Ken. “May we come inside the fence?” she asked. “I think Zaizen qualifies as an ambassador for her people.”

“Am’bassa’door?”

“A representative of your race.”

The mayor looked up at the Sori and nodded. “Please join us, Ambassador Zaizen.”

The African lioness tapped the security code on her side of the fence control box and the gate unlocked. Ken pulled it open with a slight squeak of its hinges, wide enough so that the large alien could walk in with his deputy.

As soon as they were inside, Daisuke squeaked and stretched out his arms toward her. “Ride!” he said loudly.

Zaizen looked toward his mother, who grinned and held him out to her.  The Sori picked up the young mouse with two hands and placed him upon her shoulders, at the base of her long neck. The child looked as pleased as he could be, but the alien looked back at Kate and gestured toward the bosom plant.

“This determine length of visit,” she said. The lioness nodded and then gave a quick explanation to Ken and the others how important it was to make communication possible between the two races, but it would depend upon how long the plant would last out of water.

“Wait here,” Ken responded. Leaving the small crowd at the gate, he trotted over to the gazebo and picked up a cooler containing several bottles of water that he pulled out and set on the bench seats.  He brought the cooler back over with him, but continued on out through the gate.  At the shore, he turned the empty cooler on its side and then scooped up a good amount of lake water, but not so much that he could not lift it. When it was upright, he picked up three of the globular plants, at once feeling the tingle at the base of his head, and set them inside.

He brought the cooler back in through the gate and then smiled up at the alien. “Hopefully these will last a while.”

“Perhaps.”

He and Carson took opposite end handles of the cooler and then carried it toward the electric cart they had brought over to the park area.  Zaizen watched them walk away, feeling puzzled.

“Why take plants away?”

Kate looked up at her new friend, but did not answer with a direct question. “Zaizen,” she began, “do you feel as if we have invaded your world?”

“Not my world. Only visiting, as you.”

“You were here first. Does it bother you that we have come to make this visit a little more permanent as our new home?”

“No.”

“If your people were still here, would they disapprove of our presence?”

“No, is more learning.”

The lioness gave the Sori an easy smile. “Would you like to see our town?  We have named it Tellus to honor a figure from our distant legends.”

“Yes, learning more. I would like to see Tellus.”

“They took the water plants to a vehicle we can use to take them to Tellus with us.”

By this time, the park workers had gotten bored with the discussion, and while a talking alien was the highlight of the day, they all had work to do and were ready to get back to it. Without being told to do so, the crowd dispersed until only the mothers and their children were left in the play area.

Daisuke was returned to his mother and then the Sori followed Kate across the work area to the cart where Ken waited.  Carson had departed with his workers, so now it was just the three of them.

There was some confusion trying to coax Zaizen up into the cart, especially as it had never been designed for a dinosaur-ish anatomy, and although she might have fit her feet and tail in the cargo area with the cooler, she was simply too tall to fit beneath its canopy. 

In the end, Kate and Zaizen opted to walk toward the town proper, as it really was not that far, and Ken followed beside them in the cart with Arion’s security drone keeping a watch from above.

 

NEXT


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