As usual, unedited…
The e-tainment system sounded a siren, then flashed a red screen, pulling Nicole’s attention from the shop books, and she yelled for Holly, “Come here, we’ve got an emergency!”
As Holly came through the curtain, the screen changed, showing a picture of a young girl, then flashed the information underneath.
NAME: BAER, MELISSA
AGE: THREE STANDARD YEARS
STATUS: MISSING SINCE 1300. LAST LOCATION .5 MILES E OF RUSHING RIVER
SEARCH TEAMS MUSTER AT ROCK POINT LOCATION FOR ASSIGNMENTS, ALL AVAILABLE PERSONNEL REQUESTED.
They looked at each other, and Holly asked, “Shelly’s daughter?”
“Has to be. But what… Dammit, I’ll bet Shelly took her out while she was collecting berries.”
“We’re going, right?”
“Yes, lock up and we’ll swing by the house on the way.” Glancing at the clock, it showed 1400, and Nicole winced, “Not much time. If she’s not found by dark, I don’t want to think about it.”
Holly nodded as she slipped off her apron, headed for the kitchen to shut off the cookers and ovens.
Twenty minutes later, they were gathered with thirty others at Rock Point, as Sergeant Omar squirted assignments to the individual team’s wrist comps. Nicole glanced at hers when it pinged, and said, “We’re going to be in for a rough one. Glad we brought gear.” Holly had her medkit over her shoulder, and Nicole had emergency blankets, water, and nutrition bars in her backpack. They both had pistols on their belts, and jackets rolled on top of their packs.
Holly checked hers and winced, “We’re gonna be wet and tired. At least we’re not in the woodline. That place scares me.”
Nicole asked the sergeant, “Any chance of a flyover?”
Sergeant Omar twittered and the GalTrans spit out, “Requested I have, but time we do not have. Two hours it would take. Lightflyers we will task. Altitude, they cannot use, beams too low.”
Sobbing, Shelly Baer stepped forward. “Mel was tethered, and I was in a bunch of nearberries. When I backed out, I turned around and she was gone. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes…”
Sergeant Omar interrupted, “Exact location, please for this?”
“Oh, yes.” Shelly scrolled back through her wrist comp, then keyed the location, “Here it is. I looked and looked, and called her.” She broke down in sobs again, “And Jonathan is at White Beach, and I had nobody to watch her.”
Luann put her arm around Shelly, and led her quickly away, as Doc Grant stepped up. “You find her, ping me, if she’s hurt, give me an emergency ping. OneSvel and I will be in the middle of the search area, so we can respond in any direction as quickly as possible.
Nicole thought of Fargo, Dammit, I wish Ethan was here. He might be able to find her quicker than any of us, but he’s still recovering. Or is he climbing out of bed and heading this way? That crazy…
A half div later, as they crossed yet another stream, Nicole looked up and saw Fargo’s lightflyer go over, almost hovering at times. It moved across to the woodline, and she yelled over to Holly, “He must be using IR goggles. Maybe he’ll get lucky.”
Holly waved back, “The sooner the better. The damn bugs are about to eat me for lunch. I knew I forgot something.”
Nicole slanted her way, knowing the next creek had only one ford, as she pulled her pack around. She got there first, and pulled out the bug spray, handing it to Holly as she puffed up. “Do your arms and clothes, and I’ll do your back. Then you can do mine.”
Holly quickly sprayed herself down, then stepped behind Nicole and sprayed her back. Nicole took the spray and sprayed Holly’s back, then shoved it back in her pack. “Looks like another div of light. We’ll cover at least ninety percent of our search area. I’m thinking we should modify our track, and work from distant to close, rather than the way they laid it out.”
“Sounds good. I still don’t understand why they did what they did.”
“Probabilities. That is what always drives stuff like this.”
Holly snorted, “Which is why it’s a good thing I didn’t go into the GalPat.”
Nicole took another drink of the electrolyte, capped the bottle and shrugged, “Probably right. Let’s get this one. We’ll finish this leg then rotate the tracks ninety to the left. Okay?”
Holly hoisted her pack without a word, and resumed the spacing, as they trudged toward the woodline.
Nicole and Holly walked dispiritedly through the dusk back to the winery, “Where could she have gotten to? She’s only three. We should have found her!”
Nicole replied, “I don’t know. Six divs is a long time. And if she went into the woodline…”
“Is Fargo coming over?”
“No, that stupid ass shouldn’t even have come down, much less flown two hours of search patterns. He didn’t bring his meds, and he was hurting, which serves him right, damn him!”
“He’s a male, he’s stubborn, or stupid depending. But I do like him.” Holly sighed, then switched subjects, “If we didn’t find Melissa, I’m afraid she’s gone.”
They dropped their packs on the step, and headed for the outbuilding, each lost in their own thoughts.
Holly said, “I’m going to close down the processor.”
“Okay, I want to see how much sand we have left.”
As they approached the processor they heard a soft “Wuff”, and a full grown wolf stepped boldly into the light from the door. “Mom!”
Holly started to reach for her pistol, and Nicole said, “Wait. Stop, don’t move.”
Holly had already stopped and started to protest, but Nicole held up her hand in silence. The wolf padded over, sniffed Nicole’s hand, and gently took her wrist in its mouth, tugging slightly.
“Mom? What is…?”
“I don’t know. It’s like it wants me to go somewhere.”
The wolf tugged again, and Nicole involuntarily took a step, then another. Nicole looked over her shoulder at Holly, “I’m going with it. Stay here.”
“No! I’m coming with you. If you get bit, I think I can kill it before it kills me. At least I’ll try, but I’m not staying here,” Holly hissed, as she followed Nicole. She pulled out her taclight, putting it on the lowest setting, and made sure her pistol was loose in the holster.
The wolf lead them through the vineyard, Across the intervening field, and toward the woodline. As Nicole’s eyes adjusted, she realized the wolf leading her was a female, and she wondered, Is this Canis? I don’t think so, she looks too big. But what in the hell is she doing? And why did she come to me? Dammit Ethan, why couldn’t you be here? And she’s got my damn pistol hand in her mouth. Shit…
A quarter div later, deep in the woods, the wolf stopped at a magnificent old oak, then whined. What Nicole could only describe as a meow sounded and what she’d thought was a pile of brown moss uncoiled, and she involuntarily stepped back as Holly shrieked softly behind her. A full grown mountain lion yawned, showing a mouthful of teeth, then bent and licked something lying on the ground. Holly shined her light, and Melissa Baer asked, “Mommy?”
Nicole reached down gently, “No, honey. But we’re going to take you to her, okay?”
The little girl reached up and replied, “Okay.”
The mountain lion reached up and licked the girl’s hand, she giggled and said, “Tank you, kitty.”
Nicole turned, “Now I’ve got to figure out where we are. Holly, can you use your comp to get us home? I’m going to have to carry her.”
Holly rolled her sleeve back, swiped a couple of times, and replied, “Okay, I think so. I didn’t think to track us in, and I don’t remember all the direction changes, but I can get us back to the winery. Or do you want to call for help from here?”
“No! Who would believe us. Let’s go, while I try to figure out how to explain this.”
Holly headed off, with Nicole carrying Melissa. Escorted by a wolf on one side, and a mountain lion on the other side. How do I… Nicole shook her head, I can’t explain this. I need to talk to Fargo. Somehow this has to tie into his animals. That sumbitch did this to me, somehow. But we found Melissa… Gotta call him before we talk to anybody.
A quarter of a div later, they were back in the vineyard, and Nicole stopped suddenly. “Holly, can you take Melissa for a few minutes?”
Holly glanced down at the wolf and mountain lion, then edged closer. When they didn’t respond, she gathered the girl onto her shoulder, “Still asleep?”
“She’s been asleep the whole time.” Nicole turned to face the two animals, crouched down, and projected empathy as hard as she could, saying, “I don’t think you understand, but thank you for saving her life.”
First the wolf, then the mountain lion licked her hand, and then moved to sniff Holly, before turning and disappearing into the night, side by side.
“Mom, what did you just do? Were you trying to talk to them? What?”
“Later.” She got up slowly, and they continued toward the winery as she pinged Fargo on her wrist comp.
A groggy Fargo answered, “Nicole? Whazza you want?”
“We found the girl.”
“That’s great! Where?”
“Deep in the woods. A damn wolf led me to her. And she was being kept warm by a… Mountain lion. Kinda like your two or three.”
“Shit.” A now fully awake Fargo continued, “Lie. Don’t tell them about that. Say you found her in the tree line. We can’t…”
“Fargo! She remembers! And she thanked the kitty for keeping her warm.”
“Make up something. We can’t let anybody know about the animals.”
Grumbling, Nicole finally said, “I’ll try. We’re back at the winery. I’ve got to go report this. You and I are going to have a talk about this, you understand?”
“Fine. We can do that. Does Holly know?”
“Yes, she was with me the whole time.”
“Okay, bring her with you the next time, if she’ll come?”
“She’ll come. We both want answers.” Nicole disconnected and called Sergeant Omar, telling him she and Holly had found the girl and were at the winery. Holly quickly checked her for any problems, let her go to the bathroom, and cleaned her up as well as she could as people descended on the winery.
Two days later, Fargo sat gingerly at the table with Nicole in the Copper Pot, twisting his coffee cup in his hands, “So, nobody asked any questions?”
“No. They were so happy to get Melissa back, they bought the fact that we found her in the woodline behind the vineyard. Apparently, Melissa thinks it was all a dream, even the kitty.What I want to know is why they saved her, and why they picked me! Ethan, that is just not normal behavior!”
Fargo held up both hands, “I’m not sure. I know, well, you know too, they can and do communicate both within and across at least three species. Why they saved the girl? I have to idea, other than they thought she was a cub. I do remember all of the animals at the waterfall coming and smelling me when they left. And Cattus, Canis, and Urso all have smelled you and know you won’t harm them. I just…”
Doc Grant and OneSvel came through the door, and Doc said, “Ah, two birds with one stone! Just the people I wanted to see today.”
Nicole nodded at them, “Anything to drink Doc? OneSvel?”
OneSvel’s GalTrans said, “Fargo, you are coming for evaluation today, correct?”
Fargo nodded, “At fifteen. What did you need to see us about, Doc?”
Doc said, “I’d love a real coffee.”
OneSvel extruded a couple of pseudopods, and his GalTrans said excitedly, “Disaccharides, we sense you have unprocessed disaccharides here. May we… indulge?”
Nicole looked up at him, “Uh, what?”
“Maltose, turanose, kojibiose. They are in a concentration that includes…” One of the pseudopods looked like it was sniffing, “They are mixed with monosaccharides, fructose, and a flower.”
“Oh, you mean honey? Yes, I do have some that I’ve collected up at Fargo’s place. I haven’t processed it yet, to make sure it is safe.”
“May I have some? Maybe an ounce or two?”
“If we may, yes, please.” OneSvel almost seemed to be trembling, and Nicole shook her head, got up and went into the kitchen. That’s strange. I’ve never seen that kind of reaction, and I guess it’s true, Taurasians really can sift through the atmosphere and pick out minute particles. That honey is in sealed containers to prevent contamination. I wonder why they want it?
She brought Doc’s coffee, and two ounces of honey in a small bowl with a spoon, back to the table and set it in front of OneSvel. She handed Doc his coffee cup as she watched curiously. Yet another pseudopod extruded and delicately touched the honey.
OneSvel quivered, a reddish color running over his skin, as the GaTrans moaned, “Oh. So pure. Must resist…” Suddenly the pseudopod slurped up the remaining honey in one swoop, and OneSvel’s skin turned bright red, as thousands of little hairlike pseudopods popped out then disappeared. The eye stalks closed, the Galtrans spit out gibberish, as they slowly collapsed on the floor, shaking the entire building.
Nicole looked at Doc, “What the hell?”
Doc laughed, “If I remember my physiognomy correctly, what we now have on our hands is a drunk Taurasian.”
“Apparently, raw disaccharides are, to a Taurasian, the equivalent of hundred proof alcohol to us. What you just did was give them enough put them out like a light.”
“So, how do I deal with them?”
Doc shrugged, “Leave them lay? I don’t think we can move OneSvel. It should wear off in an hour or three. OneSvel told me that’s why he’s never gone beyond medtech. He’s the Taurasian equivalent of a drunk.”
Fargo and Nicole looked at each other, as Doc continued, “The reason I wanted to talk to you Nicole, is that when we examined Melissa, I found hairs on her clothes. Those hairs came from animals. Specifically, a mountain lion, and a few hairs from a wolf, according to research I had OneSvel do. Now we know both those species have a history of savaging humans on Hunter.”
He glanced between Fargo and Nicole, “Fargo, now he’s a Scout. He’s comfortable in the wild, lives up in a remote area. But he’s never been bothered, other than that one incident at the waterfall, right?”
Fargo nodded, “I see them occasionally, but that’s all.”
Doc faced him directly, “Bullshit. The last time I cleaned the exam room after you left, I noticed there were hairs everywhere. I compared them under the scope, and they’re the same.”
Fargo was a bit startled when OneSVel projected, “Careful with your answer.”
Nicole threw up her hands, “Fuck it. I’m tired of lying. You want the truth? This is the truth. A wolf came up to me, took my arm in her mouth, and led Holly and I to the girl. A full grown Mountain Lion was keeping her warm. They let me pick her up, and escorted us back to the vineyard.”
Doc rocked back in his chair, “Wh… Eh… That’s not…”
Nicole was in full chief sergeant mode now, “Not possible? Of course it’s not possible, except it happened. And,” pointing to Fargo, “He has one each wolf, lion, and bear that are bonded to him. And he communicates with them. How’s that for impossible, Doc?”
Doc asked softly, “How?”
OneSvel projected, “Well, that cat is now out of the bag, as you speak.”
Fargo thought, “As you say. Since the truth is now out, I guess I’ll lay it out for him.
“If necessary, Doc can have an accident.”
Fargo shook his head. “Okay the truth is that I used empathy to get close to a female wolf who was hurt at the waterfall. I treated her and felt the litter of pups she had. And, oh by the way, those three species were fighting the Silverback in concert. They can talk, I guess is the word, mentally within their species and across species. They all came up and smelled me when they left. Four months later, I got three females dropped in my lap, literally. One wolf pup, a bear cub and a lion cub. They bonded with me, and, although I can’t talk to them, they do sort of respond to commands. They also alert me when things happen. Nicole knows about it, she’s been up at the cabin and interacted with them.”
Doc said wonderingly, “Wolves noses are over a hundred thousand times better than ours. That would explain them coming to Nicole. But why?”
“Payback for my killing the Silverback? Payback for saving the she wolf? I don’t know. What are you going to do about it?”
Doc looked at Nicole, “Uh, could I have a drink please? Something strong?”
Nicole stomped over to the bar, pulling a bottle out from under the bar, she sloshed a glass half full and set it in front of Doc, “What are you going to do?”
Taking a sip, he said, “I… I don’t know. The scientific…” He tossed off the drink with a shudder. “No, that won’t work. We would be invaded with eco-nuts. How about we keep this between us? I won’t even tell OneSvel. I’ll… figure out something to tell him.”
Nicole raised an eyebrow. “Why? This could make you famous.”
OneSvel projected, “Doc has his secrets too, he has no desire to interact with the larger GalPat. He will never tell anyone. I can sense his resolve in this.”
“So we should agree and let him drop it?”
Fargo said, “Okay, I’ll buy that. We’re done here. Never to be mentioned again, agreed?”
Nicole looked sharply at him, as Doc nodded his head. “So, what do we do with them?” Pointing to OneSvel.”
“Let them sleep it off. It’s only fourteen, so you’ve got what, three divs before it gets busy?”
Nicole rolled her eyes, “I guess I’ll just lock the door.”
Twenty minutes later, Holly stepped out of the kitchen, “Mom, I heard everything, but I can keep a secret.”
“Good. Because a lot depends on it.”