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SECOND CHANCE

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 4
Steak Dance

 

Hiamovi Avonaco was the largest member of Second Chance. He was also its officially appointed captain, although he did not actually use that title himself. To everyone who knew him personally, he answered to Avon as readily as his more complex given name. Despite his size as a Kodiak grizzly bear, the former Native American Cheyenne had a gentle nature — that is until human bureaucracy intruded upon his peace of mind.

It was well known to every Fur that went through transformation in the Anthro Human Colonization Program that their primary purpose was to begin “starter colonies” on habitable planets so that the overcrowded masses could one day immigrate and relieve the pressure from Mother Earth. 

When he had first joined the AHCP and signed away the rest of his life as a Fur, Avon had been full of optimism and enthusiasm for the adventure, but a last weekend on the town prior to leaving Earth thoroughly dimmed his opinion of humanity as a whole. Although retaining full human rights within the international legal system, Furs were viewed as little more than sub-humans by a great many societies across the Terran globe and he had been treated as such during a time when he should have been savoring his world prior to leaving it forever.

Although he knew the mission of Second Chance was to establish a foothold on the world of Bonestell and learn as much about it as possible before humanity could move in years later, he could now care less for the Earth and its people. Avon's vision had so narrowed that it encompassed nothing more than the thirty lives he led. They would do their best to stake a claim upon a world with no sentient life forms beyond themselves and to learn to live with the land and life already there.

To Avon, this was home.

Typically, a starter colony was comprised of no less than thirty-two Furs all of the same species. He had originally been assigned as the captain to an upcoming all-ursine colony, but due to a recent disaster of disease on another world that completely decimated its feline colonial population, the mandate was changed so that the next group that went out was a mixed group of all four classes of Furs — Ursis, Felis, Canis  and Vulps.

While this might help the colony survive if some affliction affected one or more of the types, it also severely hampered the members' ability to reproduce if the relationships were right. Instead of thirty-two bears, each with his or her own genetic history for diversity, there were now only seven or eight of each Fur class, and the ratio of males to females in each of them was not exactly balanced.

Most of Second Chance had gone through transformation together and were familiar with one another, but Avon had been afraid from the moment the announcement of a mixed group had been given that such reduced numbers of potential mates would cause conflict in time.

Due to a few losses before they'd even left the Earth, there were now only seven bears on this entire world, and only two of those were female.  Likewise, there were only seven each of the canines and felines, and although the foxes had the full eight members, they were also the only class with an equal number of genders. The fact that the colony also possessed two red pandas was a fluke, a mistake, but in that case the pair of them was already a married couple.

Although they had all grown up in societies that frowned upon multiple partners for the sake of genetic diversity in reproduction, cold reality theorized that monogamy might not be a practical practice in such a mixed group.  Granted, he saw nothing wrong if a feline female and a canine male wanted to pair up, but there would be no chance for species reproduction even with their common human genetics. If the bears wanted to populate their world with more bears, however, there were limited choices available to them. It was likewise for the red pandas. Already married, they could breed and produce offspring, but the diverse genetic line would end there.

For some of them, it appeared that reproducing may not be an option at all, and that could cause chaos down the road.  They were only contracted to stay here for five years, but most of the starter colonies had lived on at their original locations even after later human immigrants moved in to other parts of their worlds.  The best this mixed group could hope for would be to survive intact for the duration of their contract and then request additional Furs to build up and strengthen their numbers with new blood and genetic diversity.

Avon smiled to himself, looking up at the domed ceiling of his modular quarters from his pallet on the floor. This was a subject that would be best kept quiet. There would be no use in bringing it to anyone's attention, even though he was sure that the issue had not likely gone unnoticed to others as well. The grizzly bear captain had no prospective relationship with either Alicia or Dara, the Ursis females, but he admitted to himself that it would be nice; they were both quite lovely for their species.  It would be up to them, however, to decide if they would be willing to share themselves between multiple partners. No one else could make that decision for them, not even the captain of the colony.

His thoughts were interrupted by a muffled rumbling. Kevin had predicted the possibility of thunderstorms moving into the area and it might have been distant thunder he'd heard. They'd had relatively good weather since they'd arrived, but a little rain could be welcomed for the gardens.

The bear looked at his special wrist watch. Although they had all been on Bonestell for a little over a month, Avon still had not gotten used to the thirty-six hour days. Eighteen hours of daylight and eighteen hours of night could be divided up equally into nine hour work shifts, which were only an hour longer than the typical eight hour shifts back home, but it severely messed with his internal sense of time.

There was no set schedule for when his people was awake or asleep, and if someone needed another to help out with something, more times than not you would find that person on a sleep cycle at any time of the day or night.

It was currently twenty-six o'clock. A bit of mental calculation informed him that it approximated to eight in the evening on Earth and yet he had just had a full night's rest – even if it wasn't nighttime yet.

He decided to get up and see what might be available from the galley and slipped on his furman shorts and a loose pocketed vest before he stepped out into the cavern that housed the colony.  

*** 

Although the sun itself could not be seen due to an overcast sky, there was enough morning light that filtered through to herald a new day at Second Chance. While it was just daybreak, some had been up for hours at their tasks.

Cheryl Dalton stood beside a palomino mare, brushing the blonde mane with a wide brush and talking to the horse in a quiet voice as she worked. The four Arabian horses that had been brought along with them had been raised at the Furmankind Institute and were so used to Furs that none of them were afraid of having these particular predators upon their backs or otherwise interacting with them.  The horses were never intended as livestock to be eaten, but were purposed to pull the plows and carts or serve as pack animals for the furmen or their supplies when out exploring the countryside.

While the Border collie worked with the mare, Ivan Dimitri readied a western saddle for a dark grey stallion to take him out for a short ride. Long exploratory excursions had not yet been authorized, but taking the horses out away from their corral for a little bit helped give them exercise as well as strengthen the bond between the horse and rider.

The male red fox led the animal out through the gate and then latched it behind him. He put a foot in a stirrup and then swung up onto the saddle. A strap to the supply knapsack he wore on his back slid off one shoulder, so he adjusted it and then leaned forward over the saddle horn.

“Are you sure you won't go with me?” he asked the canine.  Cheryl looked up at him beneath the brim of her cowgirl hat and quietly shook her head.

“No, but thank you for asking. I'm feeling a little under the weather; I will help groom the horses, but I don't feel up to riding today.”

“Okay, I understand,” said the fox with a frown. They were not supposed to go out away from the camp unless with a partner, but he was determined to go.  He would just have to consider the horse as his partner.  “I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thank you, Ivan.”

The fox tugged lightly on the reins and led his mount toward the natural wide avenue that the supply trucks had originally driven in through the forest from the colony ship.  In honor of the ship that had brought them here, some were calling it Meriwether Lane. Before he disappeared under the canopy, he heard someone call out to him.

“Good morning, Ivan.”

He looked to the left toward the grey boulders of the mountain's foot and saw another fox sitting atop a large rock, the remnants of her breakfast upon a cloth napkin beside her.  The red-furred vixen smiled at him and he pulled his horse to a stop.

“Good morning, Rose,” he said politely, giving her a small tilt of his chin.

“Where are you headed?”

Ivan patted the stallion gently on the side of his neck.  “I'm just taking Halley out for some exercise.  We're not going far, just out to the landing field and then back along the other trail.”

“Would you like some company?”

The male raised his eyebrows and twitched his whiskers. Despite being a male red fox, none of the vixens had ever shown interest in him before.  Perhaps it was the secluded setting of a faraway world, but he wasn't going to question the good fortune of her attention.

He held out at hand toward her with a smile. “Yes, I would love your company; Halley can carry us both easily.”

Rose grinned and wrapped up the remnants of her meal in the napkin, stuffing the bundle into the overlarge pocket of her furman robe. She took his proffered hand and he lifted her up onto the horse in front of him. Once she had arranged her tail comfortably between them, he wrapped an arm lightly around her middle and then gave the reins a light tap.  Halley snorted and then resumed walking along the now-familiar avenue through the woods.

They traveled for several moments in companionable silence. Ivan enjoyed having the female leaning back against him, and Rose was likewise comfortable having his arms around her.  Neither of them wanted to break the silence, but after several minutes, something caught the vixen's eye.

“Look at that,” she whispered. 

Between the trunks of two trees with black, twisted bark was a huge translucent web suspended several feet above the ground. The designs and patterns were unlike anything the spiders of Earth ever weaved, but had their own beauty.  There were several leaves, bits of windblown grass with tuffs of fur and feathers stuck to the web in places, but no creatures that they could see.  Either the forest life had avoided it thus far or the maker of the web had already dispatched its victims.

Ever since the arrival on Bonestell, the colonists had discovered that the local biting insects and parasites enjoyed the Terran animals just as they did their native wildlife, but they tended to leave the Furs alone. Although there was yet any conclusive proof, there were some who conjectured that the remnant of goetazine in their cells was probably distasteful to the alien pests.  Whatever it was in the chemical agent that had been used to transform humans into hybrid furmen seemed an added blessing to the colony.

Despite the fact that some of the Furs thought they could practically play with the local insects without the worry of getting eaten, neither Ivan nor Rose wanted to test the theory on something that could weave such a web.  They studied it for another moment and were about to resume their travel when a large four-winged insect fluttered into the web and became instantly mired in the sticky surface.

There was instant movement from an upper corner of the web, though the Furs almost didn't see it at first.  A creature with six multiple-jointed legs sported the same color as its web, and in spite of the tacky threads it moved across them quickly without sticking to it.

Ivan swallowed when he finally got a good look at the web maker. Its large swollen abdomen was attached to an ugly cephalothorax - the fused head and thorax of an Earthly spider that held the legs - and the front part seemed to be almost all mouth without any mandibles, containing what looked like several dozen tiny needle teeth stuck out in multiple directions.  It had lidless eyes all around the core of its leathery body, no doubt giving it the ability to see in all directions at once, and it even appeared to be staring at the Furs even as it descended upon the luckless insect.

Ivan and Rose watched in stupefied horror as that grotesque mouth clamped down upon the exoskeleton of the hand-sized bug in its web with an audible crunch. Insects from Earth did not possess vocal cords, but this one had something analogous to them and it let out an agonized shriek as the Bonestellan spider systematically ripped its body to shreds before swiftly devouring it.  Rose turned away as it made quick work of the insect, and when it had finished, it retreated to another corner, spun around twice upon the web and then became still, blending in perfectly with its environment.

The foxes had the distinct impression it was looking at them as a potential meal, so Ivan quickly nudged the horse with a toe so they could move away before it had a chance to come after them for a nibble. As they rode away, Ivan looked back with a shudder.

“I'm going to have nightmares of that for a week,” he muttered. 

*** 

Practically the entire population of Second Chance had gathered within the Great Dome. Seated at a table in the middle of the large room was Jon Sunset, a plate, napkin, utensils and a cup of water before him.  There were murmurs all around as everyone waited for the show, but things got quiet when a path opened up and Kim Tanaka stepped through with a small bowl and a pair of tongs.

She gave the mountain lion a smile and then used the tongs to pull out a foil wrapped object. She placed it on his plate and then reached into her apron pocket to retrieve a shaker each of salt and pepper. She set these next to his plate and then reached into the apron once more for a few small packets of margarine and sour cream similar to those found in restaurants everywhere in North America back on Earth.

Jon licked his lips as he carefully peeled open the foil and picked up a knife and a fork so he could prepare his imported Idaho baked potato. The familiar smell made several others swallow in anticipation as he split the tuber and doctored it up to taste. Kim retrieved the foil and carefully folded it so it could be cleaned and used again, and by the time Jon had finished preparing his spud, Kim's sister Yuki stepped forward with another plate.  Upon it was a nine-ounce steak cooked to a steaming golden brown.

After Doctor Mochizuki had reported that he thought the meat from the lil-deer could be safely eaten, Jon had volunteered to become the first to try a steak from one.  The red panda had told him and Avon about the unknown residue within the muscle tissue of the animals that he was still analyzing, but Jon was willing to try it anyway, thinking that the oily fluid might cook out of the meat under a good flame, despite that the stuff itself wasn’t flammable.

He licked his lips when the Akita set the steak in front of him and his potato was momentarily forgotten.  Before he could touch the meat with his utensils, Norman bumped him with an elbow.

Jon looked up at the black bear with a grin.  “Are you sure you want to eat that?” Norman asked, his eyes glued to the food upon the plate.  No one had tasted it yet, but the aroma that permeated the air in the room was mouthwatering.  The mountain lion pushed his elbow away with his own, grinning and giving the bear a mock growl.

“My steak!” he exclaimed.

“Hurry up and take a bite!” Michael complained.  “How does it taste?”

Anticipating the meal as much as any of them, Jon made a show of cutting into the steak with exaggerated movements. Black juice seeped out of the meat but the internal aroma escaped with the steam and caressed hungry noses. He sliced off three pieces and then mentally prepared himself.

The physicians were ready. Ken stood nearby with a bottle of ipecac syrup to induce him to throw up in case the cougar was inadvertently poisoned by the foreign food and Jenni watched him carefully from his other side.

Jon skewered a piece with his fork and then lifted it to his mouth. There was a collective breath-holding as he pulled it in with his teeth and began to chew.  The crowd watched him intently. He rolled his eyes at first from the taste, but then he stopped chewing and looked down at the plate.  He chewed a little more, stopped for a moment, chewed again, and stopped.  He moved the meat around with his tongue and then he blinked twice in rapid succession.

“Uh oh,” Manny said. “That's not a good sign.”

“Are you okay?” Kristen asked.

Jon nodded briefly and then chewed it some more.  He finally swallowed it and then licked his lips before lapping up a long drink of water.  Avon hovered to the side and looked at him seriously.

“What is it?” the grizzly asked.

Jon poked the remaining steak with the tines of the fork and a little more of the black juice seeped out.  He cleared his throat and frowned.

“The meat itself is not bad,” he told them all, “but this black juice in it tastes a little like… like roofing tar… with the texture of petroleum jelly.”

“Ew,” Jasmine responded. Several others made faces, but the cougar shrugged his shoulders. 

“It's probably an acquired taste,” he said.  He scooped up a bit of the baked potato with his fork and then skewered another piece of the meat with it. Without hesitation this time, he ate it all together under the watchful eyes of Second Chance.

Even with the familiar additional flavor of the potato, the taste of the meat and its juices didn't change.  With so many people watching, he cut off more pieces and ate them bit by bit, but instead of getting used to the flavor, the taste seemed to worsen with each bite.

He managed to get down approximately half of the small steak before he stuck out his tongue, pushed the plate away and shook his head.  “That's all I can do,” he confessed. “It's not getting any better!”

“How do you feel?” Ken asked him.

Jon thought about it before answering, but he shrugged and looked up at the red wolf.  “I feel fine,” he said, reaching for the remnants of his baked potato.  “Aside from the taste on my tongue, I'm okay.”  He ate the rest of his potato in hopes the flavor of the margarine and sour cream would overcome the deer meat.

“Do you feel queasy?” Jenni asked.  Jon shook his head and swallowed the last bite.

“No ill effects,” he confirmed.  “No buzz, no dizziness, no heavy feeling in my stomach – just a bad taste in my mouth.”

Hank stepped up to the table and eyed the remaining steak.  “Do you mind if I try it?” he asked. “Not all people like the same things. Maybe this is just something that doesn't appeal to your taste, but it might be okay to me.”

The cougar finished off his water, wiped his mouth and then stood up from the table.  “Be my guest,” he said.

Hank grinned widely at the others around him. The chair squeaked a little beneath the black bear’s weight when he sat down, and he immediately picked up the knife and fork to slice off a few more squares.  With relish and anticipation, he held up one piece to his nose and breathed in the aroma. If the juices had a smell, he couldn't detect one, so he put the meat into his mouth and began to chew.  He stopped almost immediately and then looked up at Jon.

He forced himself to finish chewing and swallow it, but with everyone around him watching, he felt compelled to eat more or face ridicule. After that first piece hit his stomach, however, he was no longer enthusiastic, as if he'd been a child eating vanilla ice cream only to discover the taste of a strong onion inside.

After forcing himself to eat four pieces, he grabbed Jon's used napkin and began rubbing off his tongue vigorously. Many around him laughed at his plight, but Jon sympathized with the bear's action.  It took a moment before he felt like he could talk, and when he did, Hank looked around feeling embarrassed.

He pulled out a five dollar bill from the pocket of his overalls and tossed it upon the table.  Worthless in this setting, it was a leftover relic from their lives on Earth, but it was something he'd carried with him since their departure.

“Five bucks to anyone who actually likes this stuff,” he said with a grumble.

“I'll try it,” Arne said.  Everyone looked over at the African lion, but he held up a hand and peered over at Kim and Yuki. “Cook up another, medium well for me, but give it lots of seasoning if you have it.”

Kim looked back at him, the lynx's eyes narrowed in amusement. “We have the seasoning and several more baked potatoes, if you like.”

“Sure, give me one of those too, fully loaded.” 

*** 

Arne was now at the center of attention.  Jon watched from the sidelines as the food was brought to the new victim and he had to suppress a shudder.  Jenni and Kristen stood on each side of him and he had grown irritated at how many times the leopard had asked him how he was feeling. He knew she was just checking on him to make sure there were no side effects to eating the alien deer meat, but he was truthful when he said he was okay.

The African lion gave everyone around him a confident smile, bypassed the potato and went straight for the steak.  He cut off one piece, examined the condition of the inside to make sure it had been cooked to his request, and then popped it into his mouth.

Everyone watched in rapt attention, just as they'd done before, but a good number of them were not surprised at the expected result.  Arne chewed on it for only a moment before he spat it out onto the table.

“That's disgusting, Arne!” Sissy exclaimed, backing away from the table.

The large feline pointed at the offending cut of meat with his fork.  “That is what's disgusting!” he snarled. He whirled around to Yuki and growled at her. “Did you feed me rotten meat?”

“No!” the Akita barked back at him, her ears flat against her head. “It was fresh and so was Jon's!”

“At least Jon ate half his steak,” Dara called from the crowd. “All you did was taste it.”

Arne's tail swished back and forth behind him in agitation.  He gritted his teeth and cleared his throat noisily before picking up his knife and cutting off another piece, leaving the first bite sitting on the table.

Offended at being accused that he couldn't do what Jon had done, he was now determined to eat more than the mountain lion had.  He tried what the other had done and scooped up baked potato, margarine and sour cream on his fork and then skewered another piece of deer steak with it. He put it all in his mouth and he made an effort to try to ignore the oily taste of the juices.

He chewed quickly, not allowing the flavor to stay on his tongue any longer than it had to, and swallowed it with a gulp.  He grabbed his water, downed half the glass without lapping, and then repeated the process.  By the third bite, however, the taste was making him want to throw it back up.

“Did we bring any steak sauce with us from Earth?” he gasped.

“We did,” Yuki answered, pulling a handy bottle from her apron she’d had ready. She set it on the table beside him and he snatched it up right away. He opened the plastic bottle and applied a liberal amount to the meat.

“Hey, not so much!” Kim complained. “We have to make that last! They only sent us one case to last us the whole time we’re here!” Arne dismissed her with a wave of his hand and picked up his fork.

It didn’t help. In spite of the spiced flavors of the sauce, that fourth bite was as much as he could do. He did manage to swallow it down, but he slammed a hand flat upon the table and then pushed away the rest of it.

“Can't do it…” he admitted.  “Too rancid!”

There were several chuckles from the crowd, but no one stepped forward to take his place at the table.  After several moments, Avon stepped forward and looked down at the remaining steak upon the plate.  He dipped a finger in the oily residue and then lifted it up to his tongue. After only the barest taste, he grimaced and wiped off his tongue onto the fur of his arm.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I suppose it's no wonder there are so many of the lil-deer; nothing else with good sense would eat one.”  Looking back at Arne, he asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Just embarrassed,” the feline confessed. “I need a wire scrub brush to get the taste off my tongue, though.”

“How's your stomach?” Ken asked.

“Still hungry, but otherwise okay,” the lion said, reaching for his neglected baked potato. “I think we should just throw out the rest of the deer meat and leave the wretched things alone.”

Alicia stepped around the pair of red pandas watching the proceedings quietly and moved up to the table.  “One last time,” she said to Kim and Yuki.  “Since becoming a Fur, I tend to prefer eating meat on the rare side like many of you do, but maybe this needs to be cooked well done.”  She picked up the plate with the remaining steak and handed it to the lynx.  “Leave the sauce on it and cook this some more, and then bring it back to me with a side of those local tubers Kristen found.  Maybe I can eat it that way.”

“What if you can't?” Manny asked.

“Then we do as Arne recommends and just leave the dear little deer alone like everything else around here does.  Maybe Sissy can make pets out of them since we won't be able to count them as a food source.”

Thirty minutes later, Alicia threw the remains of the deer steak forcefully across the room, ending the great experiment. 

*** 

Jenni had finally taken Jon at his word and stopped asking how he felt.  If he was going to develop stomach trouble from eating the lil-deer steak, it was likely he would have felt its effects by now, but two hours after the meal, he was unharmed.

It was while he was helping Norman and several others work on the barn for the animals when it happened. At first, he began noisily passing gas. There was a foul odor to it and those in the building with him moved quickly outside with rude remarks, but after a short time, he could feel a familiar quivering of his insides.

Knowing what was about to transpire, Jon jumped out onto all fours and loped as fast as his insides could handle toward the latrines.  There were four porta-potty type pods built over a series of pits he had helped dig on First Day. They were located on the opposite end of the horseshoe shaped valley from the lake, and just inside the forest.

He'd just made it inside to the seat of the closest one before his insides descended in explosive diarrhea. He groaned from intestinal cramping and was unable to move from the seat for a long while, but before he thought he was finished, someone tried to yank the locked door from his pod.  He was about to yell out at the person, but whomever it was hurriedly grabbed the next one.

From the sounds and smells that tried to override his own, Jon knew that Hank was afflicted with the same intestinal horror that besieged him.  The bear groaned and moaned in his agony.

Near exhausted from repeated internal barrages, Jon leaned against the side of the latrine, panting for fresh air and getting nothing but the strong odor he and Hank had generated.

Several moments later, someone else tried to get in through his door and then just as frantically tried to get into Hank's.  The bear cursed the ancestry of whoever it was and then the door slammed shut on the third pod.  Jon recognized Arne's roars of pain and indignation, and he almost wished he'd had earplugs to blot out the other sounds the African lion was making. 

Yet another bout of cramps hit the cougar and he doubled over on his seat.  There was a rapid set of knocks upon his door, but these were not frantic.

“Oc… occupied,” he stammered weakly.

“Jon!” said Ken's lupine voice. “I saw three of you running for the latrines. Are you okay in there?”

Arne's nether regions made a loud and rude noise before Jon wearily replied, “Not okay. My butt's on fire…”

“Can you open the latch, please?” the lupine doctor said, barely suppressing a snicker despite the groans of agony all three were making. “I need a sample.”

“You're kidding, right?” Jon gasped.

“I also have bottles of water and several loperamide hydrochloride tablets for each of you, but I must have a sample of what you're expelling to examine for any toxins you may have ingested.”

The request might have been amusing if not for the painful cramping of further expulsion. Over the course of the past year, Jon had experienced several instances where he'd believed he was actually dying, but nothing compared to the pain and stink of today.

“Do we have anyone trained as a chaplain?” Hank gasped out from the next pod. “I need someone to read Last Rites for me!”

Arne burst out laughing from another door, but then went suddenly quiet when the cramping robbed him of his breath. He knew how Hank felt and was suddenly visualizing being buried in an unmarked grave on this alien world; death would be a relief.

Unsure how he managed it, Jon unlatched the door and Ken's red-furred hand reached in with a small box. Inside was a specimen container, a zipped baggie of little green pills and a plastic bottle of water with a built-in straw in its lid.  The cougar fumbled with the pills and downed several with the water before he picked up the plastic container for his “sample”.  This was not going to be fun – or very clean.

“How's Alicia?” he asked weakly. “She ate that foul meat too.”

“She never made it this far,” the red wolf replied. “She ran off into the bushes and is probably still out there frightening away all the wildlife in the area.  Jenni's tending to her now. How are you feeling?”

“I'm going to have one of the four cleanest colons on Bonestell,” the cougar said, borrowing something Kevin had told him on the space station.  He let out a grateful sigh when the current cramps eased up for a moment.

“Nice,” Ken responded as rude sounds continued from the other latrines.  “Anything else?”

“Gimmee some of those pills,” Hank pleaded from his pod. In spite of his agony, he'd apparently listened in on the conversation.

“Me too!” Arne cried out. “Although arsenic or cyanide would end my misery just as well, if you got 'em!”

Ken went to each of the latrine pods and handed water bottles and pills to the other guys, nearly wanting to pass out himself due to the overwhelming stench coming from them all. This was such a time when having the sensitive olfactory senses of a Fur could be a curse.

“Here's your sample,” Jon said weakly. “On the floor by the door.  I need a bath now, and it's not going to be a feline tongue bath.” 

*** 

“I thought I'd find you up here.”

Jon opened his eyes, looked at Avon and shook his head. “I barely had the energy to crawl up here,” he answered, “but I figured it was the only place of privacy I had to get away from everyone.”

The mountain lion was stretched out on his belly, his head near the edge of a flat slab of rock that had separated from the mountainside at some time in the distant past and had fallen over near the edge of the cliff. 

It had become his favorite lookout spot with a nice view of the lake, the valley and the forest beyond, all surrounded by the foothills of the mountain.  He was above and to the side of the cavern entrance and could see those who were just outside in the evening shadows.  The sun had been obscured all day behind the remnants of rain clouds that had passed over the mountains, though none of it had actually reached the little valley. With the clouds breaking up, there was still a soft glow of the sun on the horizon.

“I know you're tired of hearing this,” the grizzly said, taking a seat on the rock beside him, “but how are you feeling?”

“Exhausted and wrung out,” the feline replied. “I've never had such a powerful laxative before.”

“Laxative is right,” Avon told him.  “Ken and Masanori have been studying your stool samples and more of the residue in the deer meat, and the gas chromatograph has revealed that it's high in magnesium citrate, a strong laxative.  Apparently that's the lil-deer's defense against predators. Once something takes one down and eats it, the predator is likely to leave the rest of them alone from then on.”

“That's why there are so many of the little darlings…”

“That's why.  We figure that the thunderpig we witnessed killing and eating one was either blocked and knew it needed a cleansing, or the native pigs have a digestive system that can process the laxative without an issue.”

“The thunderpigs apparently have no taste buds either,” Jon muttered. “That stuff is awful.”

“Fortunately for you all, there should be no other lasting effects from the alien meat, which is completely digestible in itself, but I doubt we'll be making any ready meals out of the lil-deer due to your lax-adaisical discovery.”

Jon groaned at the pun and the grizzly smiled, patting his friend gently on the shoulder. “Due to your valiant sacrifice trying to establish an extra food source for Second Chance, I want you, Hank, Arne and Alicia to take a couple days off from colony activities. Let your insides settle and recuperate.”

“Thanks, boss, though I may never volunteer for anything ever again.”

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.