FICTIONAL LIFE

 

 

ARION

©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight - Human Extinction

 

 

“Yes, that is right. We have a volunteer who understands the risk, and we have a genetic sample of his tissue that was collected prior to his transformation.”

“Please understand, Friend Arion, that there is no assurance that the process developed for Sori will work for Human.”

“This has been explained, stressed and understood, Ambassador.”

“Very well.  An airship will be launched soon with a medical science team to land just outside the Lake Gate, and a second airship will transport all materials necessary to the process to the surface. There, the team will grow an outpost dome in which to work.”

“Would it not be easier to transfer our volunteer up to your voidship for the process?”

“Easier, yes, but not possible at this time. Voidship 74857 is on a time schedule, its original mission to retrieve any survivors from Serallasion and then proceed outward to survey a potentially habitable planet in orbit around another star.”

“After being alone for so long, you will not be returning to Sorini?”

“That is correct, but is good. I am with my people again, and I will be doing that which I have been trained to do, extensive survey of a new world to expand knowledge. Many advances of our methods and technologies have been made since I have been away, so I will be learning too.”

“Understood, Friend Zaizen. When should your airships be expected in Tellus?”

“Both will drop from orbit in three hours. Medical team is preparing materials now.”

“How long will your medical team be here?”

“Process is slow, will take much time for first volunteer, and then only after much research and testing. If successful, Sori will remain on Serallasion as long as necessary to process all humans.”

“If successful, will your voidship return to retrieve your team once they have finished?”

“Sorini will send another. As with 74857, another voidship will retrieve medical team and then proceed outward to explore another world to collect more knowledge.”

“Do any of your voidships ever return to Sorini?”

“Some, but not all. Most have been away many years.”

“If you will be leaving with the voidship, how will your medical science team communicate with us here?  Have you instructed them to utilize the water plant you used to learn human English?”

“Native water plant was useful, but would Friend Arion be willing to act as an interpreter between Sori and Human? Team would need access to your wonderful techwatches or tablets.”

“I do not believe Mr. Robeson or Dr. Kate would be against this request. As for myself, I would be willing, as this would allow me to increase my own knowledge of the Sori.”

“Exchanges of information is good.”

“Indeed.”

“Request discussion with Dr. Kate, please. Using a human term, I wish to farewell with her before we depart. There will be no more communication between us when voidship resumes its mission.”

“Certainly. I will have her contact you at her earliest convenience before you depart.”

“Thank you, Friend Arion.” 

*** 

“Yes, Arion?” asked the lioness. The device was set to audio-only with no video coming through and her voice was barely above a whisper.

“Dr. Kate, our friend Zaizen wishes to say good-bye to you before her ship sets sail.  They will be dropping a medical science team with all necessary materials within three hours, but once they have safely deposited their cargoes and returned, the voidship will be departing to continue its mission to another star.”

“Zaizen is leaving with them?”

“That is correct.”

“I can’t say I blame her. She was here alone for over two decades, but now she’s back with her kind again.”  There was a pause. “They are leaving their medical team behind? I assumed the ship would stay in orbit until they knew whether or not the process would work.”

“Their medical science team will remain on Bellerophon for the duration of the process. If successful with Mr. Weathers, they will stay until the last furman has become human again. If they are not successful with the first attempt, they intend to stay and work out the process for as long as it takes. Only then, they will signal for retrieval by another voidship.”

“Did you give them what they wanted?”

“Mostly. I have learned a great deal about their technologies in the few days they have been in contact with me, and I believe I have worked out the preliminaries where they can be begin the long road to producing an Artificial Intelligence of their own. I have also worked out a viable solution so that they will be able modify our video communication technologies to their own. They operate on a different set of frequencies than we use, which is why our initial hails were unrecognized by their systems even though I was transmitting using their primary language. They could have had video capabilities long before now – it just never occurred to them to try.”

“You understand their technology now?”

“Once I understood the hexadecimal equivalent of the binary processes they utilize, I was able to tap into and download the voidship’s entire database archive, but only after printing additional data storage for Arion-1 to contain it. I have not yet scanned through it all, but have initially focused my attention on the technical information appropriate to what we need.”

“And what is it we need?”

“Using Terran technology, I do believe we can apply their shielding advancements to protect future ships from the rays that caused your genetic mutations in the first place. According to the Sori, these rays are abundant in free interstellar space and caused many such transformations in their own people before they learned what it was, where it originated and how to protect against it.  I still have much research to do with the information, but once I have a solution that will apply to my own systems, I can transmit the resolution to Arion-2 so that my counterpart can implement it there, and in turn relay it back to Earth.”

“They know where these rays originate?” Kate asked in amazement.

“They are emitted from red dwarf stars, the most common star type. Some exoplanets around such stars have been considered habitable for human colonization, but now that we have this knowledge, it is conceivable that these kind of mutations or worse might occur without special shielding. This information must be transmitted back to Earth or the human race will only remain human if it stays within the protection of its own solar system.”

“It will be many decades before Earth receives that solution,” Kate mused aloud.  “If Earth has continued to send out ships to other habitable planets, they may have already seeded multiple planets with additional populations of furmankind unintentionally.”

“This would be a logical assumption on our part,” Arion agreed. “Whenever you are ready to talk to Zaizen one last time, you only need to contact her via your tech devices as you would any other. Once they have left orbit, however, you will be unable to reach her.”

“Let me get dressed and find a suitable place to call her from. Ken and I were taking a much-needed afternoon nap and he’s still sleeping.”

“A nap, Dr. Kate?”

“Yeah, cats are well-known for multiple sleep periods throughout the day, and since we’re all getting closer to our base animals, this is an attribute we’ve discovered recently.  I’ll call her in a few minutes.”

“As you wish, Dr. Kate.” 

*** 

“Friend Kate, it is good to see you one last time,” said the alien’s image from the screen of the lioness’ tablet. The Sori ship had not yet implemented the Terran technology that Arion had provided to give them video communication capabilities, but Zaizen still had the devices that had been given to her. A row of instrument panels provided the background behind her friend, and although Kate could not read any of the information displayed there, it was comfortingly familiar in its design.

“I didn’t want you to leave without wishing you and your people well.”

“Is kind and appreciated.  Thank you for your friendship and patience with this one. For the short time we have known one another, you helped make my alone time more bearable. If you and your people had not come to Serallasion and activated beacon, I would still be alone. Thank you.”

“You are very welcome, Friend Zaizen.  Be well and be happy. Goodbye.”

“Good-byes, Friend Kate. Be well and happy too.” 

*** 

Several hours later, two of the Sori spherical airships landed in tandem only paces away of one another next to the crater lake. From within one of them, four of the hairy, dinosaur-like aliens stepped out into the sunlight of 51 Pegasi. Awaiting to greet them were several of Furs standing just outside the open Lake Gate.

The aliens looked around at the ground, the sky, the lake and one another before finally acknowledging the furman presence. They seemed to hesitate at first, but then one stepped forward with the other three following in single file behind it. They stopped several paces away from their greeters, and then one at a time and in turn, they all held up each of their hands, all digits spread out wide.

“Repeat the gesture,” Arion directed from each of the furman party’s techwatches.

“I don’t have four hands,” Andresen murmured in reply.

“It does not matter. It is a show of respect and friendliness, much as you would with a handshake.  The open hands symbolize greeting you and bearing no arms.”

Almost in unison, each of the Furs held up their hands and spread out their stubby fingers. The alien in the forefront replied with a human-inspired nod of the head and then gave them a genuine smile of its own.

Without waiting for a verbal exchange, Kate stepped forward with the strap of a cloth bag draped over one shoulder. From within this, she pulled out a tablet that was already activated and handed it to the lead alien.  This being’s black and brown mixed body hair was impeccably groomed and its movements were graceful despite its dinosauria resemblance. It accepted the tablet and Arion spoke from it with several phrases in the Sori primary language.  The creature blinked and then looked at Kate. It spoke several words and then waited for Arion to translate for them.

“Sori Rialcis,” repeated the synthetic intelligence. “I am landing party leader.”

“Well met, Leader Rialcis,” Kate replied.  “I am Dr. Kate,” and then she gestured toward the mayor just behind her, “and this is our leader Mayor Ken.”

“Rialcis will do. Well met, Friend Mayorken.”

“Welcome to this world,” the cougar said in greeting. “We are thankful for your assistance. You may call me Ken.”

“We are grateful for chance to exchange more knowledge, Friend Ken.”

Kate then reached into her bag and pulled out three more tablets. She had not known how many would be in the party, so she had brought out ten of the spare units they had in storage. To the three other Sori, she handed one to each to use for communication with the humans they would be working with. There were also individual techwatches for their use in her bag, but Kate would present them with instruction on their use before they left them alone for the day.

“Sori Anano.”

“Sori Nilrem.”

“Sori Mijel.”

Each of these beings looked excited to get an alien device of their own, but Anano and Mijel immediately placed theirs inside marsupial pouches beneath their hair. Kate noted that the Sori had sent two males and two females, and briefly wondered if any of them were mated to the others in the group.  She shook her head mentally; she should not be having such thoughts of people she had just met. If these were two mated couples, it was not her business to know.

There was movement at the other airship and she looked over toward it as Ken and Rialcis began a conversation relayed and translated both directions through Arion.  An opening had appeared in the crystal ball-like vessel and two more Sori stepped down a ramp pushing rather large containers with rounded edges using something analogous to an anti-gravity pallet jack. She watched them take the boxes several yards out away from the airship and then lower them to rest atop the crater weeds growing there.  They pulled the jack out from beneath the containers and then returned to the airship. It was all very familiar. Moments later, they emerged with more boxes, which they deposited with the others.  As the conversation continued behind her, Kate watched the other Sori pair unload sixteen boxes in all before they returned to their ship and closed up the curved opening in the crystalline surface.

Then without any prior warning, the airship jumped straight up into the air with nary a sound, although the lioness could feel air rushing in to occupy the space of vacuum the sphere left behind it. There was no roar of rockets or flames of heat, and the other Sori did not even look up as their secondary airship boosted toward its mothership in orbit.

She looked behind her at her companions and Will Andresen was craning his head upward with a hand shadowing his eyes as he followed the progress of the shining orb up into the heavens. She glanced up too, but it was already lost to distance.

“You are more than welcome to set up your outpost within our town,” Ken was saying to the aliens. “There is no need to stay out here by the lake.”

“We require the resources of this lake. It will be beneficial to our presence.”

“As you wish. If there is anything you require that we can provide, you only have to ask through Arion using these tablets.”

“With your release, we will begin the construction of outpost.”

“Right away? We had hoped to give you a tour of our town and facilities.”

“Very much like to visit your town and facilities, but first we make outpost, then tour.”

“Okay, that sounds good,” Ken said. “Do you need any assistance?”

“We do not.”

“Right. You also do not need our permission to do your work, but if it helps, you have our release.”

“Thank you. We start now.”

With that finality, the four Sori walked toward the cases that had been unloaded and immediately set out to open them.  Ken and his party watched for several moments before the mayor turned back toward the gate to their awaiting trucks.  With the exception of the engineer, they all climbed into the vehicle.

“Are you coming, Will?” Ken asked from the driver’s seat.

“No, I think I will stay and watch a while. If they’re going to grow one of them domes, I want to see how they do it.”

“Suit yourself, but you’ll have to walk back.”  The mayor looked skyward and added, “Afternoon rains will be here soon.”

The red wolf grinned. “I’m healthy enough.”   

*** 

For the next two hours, Will watched as the Sori assembled the outer framework of an outpost dome larger than the one that Zaizen had been posted at before the coming of the meteorite. Once the initial outer frame was done, they put up frames for several partitions inside and the engineer supposed they were internal walls and a flooring.  He did not recognize the metal alloy they assembled, but they put them together not with screws or rivets, but with what looked like a tube containing an olive green gel they squeezed out where needed.  He had not actually been out to the original dome beyond the crater, but had seen numerous photos and some samples of the materials that had been brought back.

Once they had finished with the large dome, they set out to work on two others that were somewhat smaller and interconnected with the first.  It reminded the engineer of a cluster of large igloos, although without the passageway tunnel entrances.

When the skeletal structures of all three domes were assembled, Will watched as they opened up several canisters and then applied a dark green paste around the foundations of them all with bulbs inserted into a type of squeeze gun.

It was only when this activity finished that the aliens noticed that the red wolf was still with them, settled on his haunches among the crater weed.  He wagged his tail and gave them a friendly wave, but none of them seemed to understand the gesture.

One of them with sand-hued hair reached into her marsupial pouch and pulled out the tablet that had been given her.  Will watched her hold it close to her mouth and speak, and then she mimicked his hand wave toward its screen.  Mijel listened for a moment, said something to her companions, and then all four of them turned and gave the engineer a return wave.  He smiled at the exchange.

Then a Sori with black hair so dark that it was almost blue walked over to the Fur and stopped several feet from him. The male named Nilrem held his tablet in one of his multiple hands and spoke into it while looking directly into the wolf’s amber eyes.

“Is there something we can do for you?” Arion translated from the device.

“No, I am an engineer and was merely curious to watch you construct your base.”

“Is a task so menial of interest to you?”

“Indeed, yes,” Will answered. “Your people and mine do things differently, so I just wanted to see how you worked. It really was interesting to me.”

“You may return to your people now,” Nilrem told him. “We will rest and then have sustenance. It will rain on us soon and we have a temporary abode to rest in for the remainder of this day.”

“What about your outpost?  Will the rain harm your construction?”

“The rain will assist in the growth. Is good.”

Andresen got up onto his feet and scratched at an ear. “I can’t say I understand that, but if you say it is so, I’m good with it.  I will return to Tellus and see you later.”

“Friend Arion said to wish you a good day.”

Will grinned. “Good day to you as well.”  With that, the red wolf dropped to all fours and then padded quietly back in through the Lake Gate, which he left open, and then back out towards town as the first sprinkling drops of rain began to fall.  

*** 

When Will and Ethan returned in a flatbed truck the next morning, followed by another with Ken and Kate, they were amazed at the sight they beheld.  From the ground up to a third of the height of the largest dome, there were now solid walls of dark green plant life growing over the metal framework. It looked almost as if a thick layer of rubber had been poured into a mold over part of the skeleton.  An equal amount of this growth covered the other connected domes, and with closer inspection, it had also formed a thick, rubbery flooring inside them.

“So that’s what they meant that the rains would assist in the growth of their outpost,” the wolf pondered aloud.

“They grow their buildings?” Ethan asked.

“Apparently this kind anyway.”

“Looks like our alien friends went for an early morning swim,” Kate mused aloud as she crawled out of the second truck. They all followed her gaze out toward the lake and saw all four of the Sori emerging from the water. It was just warm enough that a thin layer of mist covered the surface of the lake and seeing the dinosauria rising from the waters in the morning light was a little eerie.

When all four were on dry land, their fur dripping in the sunlight, everyone exchanged open hand greetings. 

Rialcis spoke several words in his native language, and although none of the Sori had their Terran devices on them, Arion automatically translated through Ken’s techwatch.

“Good morning to you, Friends. We will be ready for tour of your civilization momentarily.”

“Good morning,” Ken replied. “Please take your time. We can wait.”

Arion’s voice relayed the message through the techwatch at a raised volume so that the Sori could hear it.  The aliens went to a container where they each retrieved a towel-like cloth and proceeded to dry themselves. It was either a quality of the cloth or of the Sori fur, but they were completely dry within moments.  They then worked to help groom one another with a set of brushes, and by the time they had finished and approached the Furs, each had fur that was smooth and silky.  Zaizen’s fur had never looked this good when she was with them, but she had never had another Sori to assist her.

Rialcis gave the mayor and his party a pleasant smile and spoke a few words into the techwatch he now wore on one of his wrists; all four of the Sori were now wearing them, finding them less bulky than carrying around one of the tablets just for communication purposes.

“We would see your city now, please,” his translated words said. “Our outpost will continue to grow with the morning light, so we have no other duties at this time.”

The cougar gestured toward the trucks. “Would you prefer to ride with us into town?”

“Will walk, thank you.”

“As you wish.”

Ken and Kate walked with their new companions and engaged them in idle conversation while Will and Ethan brought up the rear in the vehicles.

“I don’t think they like our trucks,” Ethan mused to Will. “Every Sori we meet prefers to walk.  Surely they don’t walk everywhere back on their world.”

“Who knows,” the engineer replied. “Maybe they do when they don’t need to go far, using their airships for everything else.”

“Have you figured out how their crystal balls fly yet?”

“No, I’ve not been inside one yet. Maybe eventually.”

Arion’s voice spoke from their techwatches. “When you have time, Mr. Andresen, I can show you the schematics for them.”

“They gave you the schematics?”

“Not specifically, Mr. Andresen, but I downloaded and copied everything from their system when they gave me access.”

“Did they know you did that?”

“Yes, Mr. Andresen. The Sori are free with exchanges of information.”

“What did you exchange with them?”

“The process for video telecommunication and the foundation for creating their own Artificial Intelligence. The latter will take them years of research and development.”

“If they gave you all their information,” Ethan remarked, “why didn’t you show them how to create their AI to completion?”

“Their technology is not exactly like ours, Mr. Edwards, and it will take research of my own with their database before I fully understand it myself.  I did not give them technology toward an AI, only our data and historical development on how mankind created it. They will apply their own sciences and applications toward that end, but they will follow their own pathways of understanding.  It remains to be seen how long it will take them to develop a system that I may be able to communicate with in the future.” 

*** 

Yvonne Weathers slowly floated toward consciousness. She had been kept asleep since the day her husband attacked her out of the blue to allow her injuries to heal, but now the goat would also need to heal from the psychological trauma of the experience.

When she finally opened her slit-pupil eyes, the first face the doe saw was that of Dr. Fernando. She was momentarily disoriented, but the skunk’s gentle smile kept her calm.

“Hello,” he said in a quiet voice. “Welcome back.”

“Doctor… Fernando…” she murmured in a quiet voice, having to swallow between words. Her throat felt sore and tender, and her voice came out barely louder than a whisper. The counselor reached out and tenderly brushed aside a strand of her course hair from her forehead.

"I know you probably don’t feel up to a conversation,” he said, “but there are several people here who need to know what happened to you.”

“What… happened…” she repeated.  She closed her eyes for a moment, but then snapped them back open in a panic. “C-C-Carson!” she croaked.

“Calmly, my dear,” Fernando said, caressing her forehead with a finger. “He can no longer hurt you.”

“Where…?”

“He is – contained. You will not have to see him again.”

“Dale?”

“Your son is safe. He is with the Coltons.”

“Thank… thank you.”  She closed her eyes at this, but was in no danger of falling back into sleep. “Who… is here?”

“Mayor Ken, Dr. Kate, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Vincent, Dr. Kazama and Ms. Heald.”

She opened her eyes again and looked around. Surrounding her was a crowd of mostly carnivores, and she had sudden flashbacks to her husband’s claws and fangs.  She began to hyperventilate with a bit of panic and clenched her eyes shut.

“No!  N-no-no predators!”

Fernando waved his hands toward the others in the medical recovery room of the Central Authority building. “You heard the lady,” he said quietly. “Everybody out — all but Satoru, Jessica and myself. You can listen in to what she tells us via techwatch.”

Yvonne heard several bodies shuffle away, and then two faces joined the skunk’s, an otter and a red panda. “Th… thank you,” she whispered in a calmer voice.  She looked up at Dr. Kazama. “How… hurt?”

“Maybe we should discuss that later,” suggested the river otter.

“Want to… know.”

Kazama nodded and twitched his whiskers. “Very well. We had to repair your throat, but it was mostly muscle damage and your main blood vessels escaped serious injury. Once your hair grows back over it, no one will ever know it happened. Your left wrist was broken and will be in a synthplast cast for several weeks, which means you won’t be able to get down on all fours. Thankfully, you can still get around on two legs. You’re bruised in several places and will be sore, but otherwise you will be okay. I would recommend bed rest for several more days, and for you to allow me and Jessica to care for you in the meantime.”

Yvonne gave the otter a brief smile and simply nodded.  Dr. Fernando took her good hand in his. “Now, take your time and tell us what happened. If it becomes painful for you to remember, just know that you are no longer in any danger and that we are here for you.”

“Okay… please help… sit up.”

Fernando and Jessica assisted the capra woman up into a sitting position, and once she was settled, she nodded and looked at the trio awaiting her words.

Amid stops and starts due to her injured throat, Yvonne told her story.  She had been tending the sheep while they grazed on crater weed, and her husband stopped by on his way to a construction site to let her know he had left their son Dale with the Colton family. They had fallen to idle chit chat, and while talking together, Yvonne saw an abrupt change come over Carson; he became almost feral in front of her eyes.  The sheep in the paddock panicked and scattered, having picked up on the sudden danger scent before she did.  Then without warning, he jumped for her throat as if she was prey. In sudden terror and horrendous pain, she had shrieked out loudly, hoping someone would hear and come to her aid before he crushed her throat. It was then she had blacked out.

Yvonne broke down and cried from the horror of it all. Jessica gently put an arm around her and let the injured woman shed her tears into her shoulder.

“W-why? Why would… he hurt me?” she sobbed. “We had… no argument. All was… fine.”  She swallowed hard and looked up at the red panda. “We were… uh, flirting…  Why would he…  hurt me?”

“We think it has something to do with the transformation,” Fernando answered. “There are some who have had trouble like this. The changes gave them claws, fangs, fur and tails, but some of them have proven that they’ve taken on their predatory attributes as well and their parent animal tendencies surface and briefly take control of them. This may have happened to… him.”  He refrained from saying the bobcat’s name, for fear of frightening her further.

“What… triggered it?”

Dr. Kazama shrugged his slender shoulders. “Honestly, we don’t know. It could be a chemical imbalance in the brain, or it may be genetic memory of the species heredity. Some don’t seem to be bothered at all, while others are struggling to keep their humanity in control.”

“Didn’t do it… on purpose?”

“I doubt it, but it was still strong enough to take control of him.”

“How is he… now?”

“He’s locked up where he cannot hurt anyone else, but those who have watched over him said he is himself again.  He’s remorseful of what he’s done and unable to forgive himself.”

Yvonne fell quiet and they could see she was sorting through her feeling.  Finally, she looked up at each of her companions, one at a time. “I don’t… hate him,” she said at last, “but don’t… want to see him. I’m afraid.”

Fernando nodded. “That’s understandable.  Listen, my dear, we’re going to let you rest your throat for now. Sleep if you wish, but we will be nearby in case you need anything.”  The counselor put a hand up to his chest and added, “even if it’s only to talk things out. That’s what I’m here for.” 

*** 

The Sori domes were ready for habitation a day later and the aliens began moving their equipment from the cases inside. They courteously declined help from the furman and remained busy well into the evening hours, coming out only to visit briefly with those who came to check in on them, and to take an occasional dip in the lake waters. While the Sori were never disrespectful or rude to the Terrans, they tended to keep mainly to themselves. Unlike Zaizen, who was alone for so many years, these beings had one another for company. The furmen hoped that, while the aliens had only been on Bellerophon a short time, perhaps they might open up more as time passed.

Once they had their abode all in order, they wasted no time starting their research.  Dr. Kazama provided them with Carson Weathers’ original, unaltered DNA sample so they could make comparisons to his current makeup. 

*** 

Sean Barringer stood in front of the mayor’s desk with his large feet planted defiantly apart and gesturing in the air with his arms. The War Admiral pilot was angry, but it was all he could do to keep himself from pounding a fist onto the cougar’s desktop.

“We’ve got Trina Barron tied up with fencing wire, staked to the ground and guarded. She’s growling and gnawing at the wire, for what good that will do her. I hope she chokes herself on it!”

Ken looked deeply troubled; another carnivore had attacked an herbivore as prey. “How is he?”

“We got Dominic free of her clutches quick enough, but he’ll lose that raccoon tail of his. I’m sure he’ll have nightmares of demon ocelots gnawing on it for months! Dr. Kazama is seeing to him now.”

The cougar raised his techwatch to his lips. “Arion, can you inform Ethan and Rod of the situation and send them out to the Waterworks building to collect her, please?”

“Right away, Mr. Mayor.”

Ken put his head in his hands and stared down at the desktop. “This is getting worse,” he murmured.

"Sir," Sean interjected, “all of the herbivores are frightened. None of us want to have anything to do with any of the carnivore types now. It’s time you acted in everyone’s best interests.”

The cougar looked up. “What would you suggest? I can’t lock up half the population like zoo animals before any of them have done anything.”

The tan and white, fuzzy lop-eared rabbit dropped into a seat and then put his elbows up onto the edge of the table. “We want to segregate the city,” he stated firmly.  “Paint an imaginary line down the middle of Main Street and forbid the carnivores from crossing over into the other side. It’s for our safety. We’ve already talked about traveling in pairs so no one is caught alone like Dominic was.”

“Traveling in pairs is probably a good idea,” Ken replied, “but don’t you see how splitting the town will curtail work on the rest of the city?  We need everyone working on it, and some of those skill sets cross species lines.”

“If these attacks continue, what’s that going to do for your precious work schedules?” Sean asked hotly. “How are you going to keep your people safe if you can’t keep them safe?”  The cougar looked at him darkly, but he did not have an answer to that.

“I will discuss options with my command team,” Ken said.

“A command team that consists of all carnivores!” Sean exclaimed.

The cougar looked at him. “Dr. Kazama is not a carnivore.”

The rabbit snorted. “River otters are carnivores, Your Honor!” He said the last in pure derision. “Otters may not hunt down large prey, but they’re still meat eaters. He fits the description.”

Ken sighed forcefully.  “Maybe the herbivores can pick someone from amongst themselves to join my team so we can figure out something together.”

For the first time since he had stepped into the room, Sean smiled.  “We have done this already. I am the one they elected.”

“You?”

“Of course, me — why do you think I’m the one in here ranting at you?  Those are my people, and we need representation in your discussions.”

Ken got up to his feet and the rabbit matched him.  The mayor stared at him only a moment and then nodded. He held out a hand and Sean took it.  “Welcome to the command team, Mr. Barringer,” he said. “Hopefully we can come up with a solution we can all live with.”

“That’s all I ask.”

“The first thing I should tell you is not common knowledge yet, but our new alien friends think they may be able to reverse the transformation process.”

“That’s not a secret. There’s been talk of nothing else for days.”

“All you’ve heard were rumors based upon someone’s fantasies, but now we have something real to go on.”

“What’s the difference?  People are excited.”

“As always with rumors, everyone acts under the assumptions they think are true.”

“Okay, so what’s changed?”

Ken returned to his seat and motioned for the pilot to do the same.  “We haven’t made any official announcements concerning the rumors because we didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up until we knew for certain it would work.  In the early days of their interstellar space program, the Sori encountered the same mysterious rays that caused us to change.  They had mutations, same as we did, but it took them years to find a solution.”

“Will it really work on us?”

“Unfortunately, none of us know that, including them.  The Sori have a different physiology than us, so they are here now to research the possibility of applying modifications to their processes to work with our DNA.”

“They are here to help us?  I thought the new aliens were here just to take the place of the original science team that got wiped out.”

Ken nodded. “That’s the general story we’re going with for now.  Dr. Kazama collected DNA from each of us before we went into cryo and he’s provided unaltered DNA for them to compare to what’s been mutated.”

Sean leaned forward. “Is this generalized or did you give them someone’s specific DNA?”

The mayor nodded. “You know about the attack on Yvonne Weathers?”

The rabbit’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, her husband went berserk and tried to eat her.”

“There is no guarantee that the aliens will discover if there’s anything they can do, but if they do manage to come up with something, there has to be a first attempt with any process.  Carson has volunteered to be the first.”

“You said there was no guarantee that it will work.”

“That’s right. The process might be successful, but it could also kill him instead. Right now, there’s no way to know.  Until there’s a procedure to even try, we’re keeping him contained.”

“Did Carson actually volunteer, or was he summarily placed on the short list?”

“Actually, he volunteered as penance for his crime, and yes, he’s fully aware of the danger.”

“You may have to add Trina Barron to that volunteer list,” the rabbit said, slumping back into his chair.

“We can be hopeful that the Sori will be able to find a way to reverse what’s happened to us all, but in the meantime, we’ve got to find a way on our own to keep our people under control.  Segregation is a short-term solution at best, but eventually we’ll still need to come together. If neither we nor our alien friends can come up with a solution, it’s likely we’ll completely wipe out ourselves in the end, and it won’t just be between carnivore and herbivore.”

“What do you mean?”

“Mother nature never meant for all predators to just get along as we do as half-human hybrids. In the real world, even carnivores have enemies with other predators, so it wouldn’t just stop even if all the herbivores were killed off. The closer our animal tendencies come to the surface, the bigger the danger to us all.  This colony could fail spectacularly, and it may not even be this alien world that does it to us.”

Sean rubbed his face with both hands. “If you believe in prayer, you’d better pray that the aliens are able to find a way to fix us, or the fate of the human race could be extinction for anyone who leaves the protection of Earth’s solar system.”

 

NEXT


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