“Garjah, it looks like you have a new friend,” Timok teased.
“He just smells Essell on me.” Garjah had both pairs of hands lifted away from Bouncer who was looking up at him. “Cerops are predators, primarily hunting by sound but also by sight and smell. He’s using smell, that’s all.”
“He’s hunting you?” Seedrah’s voice rose.
“No, you fool. He thinks Garjah is his other parent. He’s adopted Essell as his pack, and something about Garjah tripped that caretaker role for him as well.”
“Smell, I’m telling you. I helped Essell walk on the way here.” Garjah crossed his upper arms. “He is not attached to me that way.”
“I’ve hypothesis based on past observations. The cerops do mark each other, yes, but that is not something which can explain the bonds between pairs and their offspring.”
“But Bouncer was rejected from his family. If they have these bonds, why didn’t he have them?”
Timok shrugged. “His pack could have died. Or he was pushed out for more favorable offspring. These are still animals, driven by instinct.”
“Aren’t we all?” I muttered. “The instinct to survive is usually strong.”
“As individuals and species.” Timok inclined his head. “I knew you would understand that lesson.” Without saying anything else, he turned and walked out of the hold.
And with that cryptic statement, I suddenly got a whole subtext I’d missed before. Timok was a scientist. But even without overtly stating it, I’d just received a huge warning. It hadn’t even been subtle. Or maybe I wasn’t the first species they’d caught they didn’t want to reveal their existence. Was it a friendly warning or an official one?
The Four Arms on the ship did not like it when I walked around with Bouncer. They’d turn around and go the other way unless Garjah or Seedrah were with me. Mostly we stayed in my quarters, Timok’s lab, or the hold where we had a space set up to let him exercise.
His only left my side when Garjah was around. He only ate from me or Garjah. Timok studied us. I studied them. The best part was all the data Timok gave me. The animals and plants on Ardra I hadn’t explored yet was extensive.
It turned out we moved to the northern continent. The lush plants were long gone. High cliffs and extensive black sands dominated the landscape.
“What are we doing here?” I asked.
“Can we go outside the ship? Bouncer needs more exercise. I’d like to do more hands on research as well.” Timok told me that Garjah normally went out to oversee the crews, but with me on board he’d sent out Seedrah instead.
“You don’t want to go alone?” Garjah asked. He sliced off a chunk of meat. One for himself, one for Bouncer who sat next to our table.
“No. Navigation is disabled on my equipment, and I don’t know the area. There’s no food, no water. It’s too hot out there for Bouncer to survive for long.” Maybe I should just come out and say it. “If you guys ever do let me go, I’ll have the research I need to make my name. I won’t give that up to run away and die on some foolhardy escape attempt.”
Garjah put down his blade, raising his brows. “I wondered if you’d ever say it.”
“I wonder if you’d ever tell me if I’m going to be a captive forever.”
“That is not my decision.”
“Right. Roles and all that. You’re security. You make sure I’m not a threat and then someone else decides Tell me, why hide your species from the rest of the universe? What is so scary about everyone else that you lurk out here on the fringes?”
Garjah’s thin lips spread in a smile. “You assume we’re not the scary ones.”
I put my fork down. “If so, you’d neutralize races and subdue planets. You display community traits as a species. You need each other. You’re insular. Many races are and join the galatic. So something else is going on. I just haven’t figured out what yet.”
I needed to talk to more of the Four Arms. I hoped making a trip outside the ship would show my intentions, but the words just blurted out of me.
“Tomorrow, early before the second sun gains to much height it should be safe for you both out of the ship. We can explore for a few hours. While it looks barren, there are animals that live among the sand and rocks. I can show you.” Garjah’s change in subject confused me.
“Um, okay. Thank you.”
Garjah nodded his head toward my plate. “You are sated?” I’d finished off the cubes and some of the vegetables.
“Yes. I’m full.” I carefully cleaned my fork to take back to my quarters.
“I will escort you.” Garjah tossed the last of the meat to Bouncer, who yipped as it sailed over the table to my side. He caught it neatly, snapping it out of the air with his jaws and purring as he swallowed it down.
As soon as we got back to my quarters and the door slid shut behind me, I removed my exosuit. Garjah thought I wore it except to bathe, but it didn’t cool me as effectively in the higher gravity. Some of the mechanisms were struggling, so I stripped down to my underclothes and sat on the bed beside Bouncer.
He lay his head on my leg, and I scratched the scaled on the top of his head between those ginormous ears. “We’re getting out tomorrow, buddy. I bet you can’t wait.” I pulled my tablet to me and looked up cerops again. I didn’t think being out in the desert would hurt him, but I’d found him in a jungle. Time to do some more research.
And write up the notes I’d mentally penned on Four Arms.Want more flash?