The Changed -- Chapter Two -- ANGRY ARGUMENTS by Dee Caples
When Pericles rescues a human female from nomads he risks the wrath of his fellow genetic mutants who have done their best to avoid mankind. Worse yet, Danna has tripped the trigger of Dancy, the sociopath mayor of Dirty Town, by stealing from him. In this steampunk tale of revenge, there will be a duel in the desert and only one faction will come out the winner.
The girl came awake on the ride back. There wasn’t much to run over out here so he was able to take his eyes off where he was going and watch her startled reaction. He’d had the good sense to put one of the helmets on so she wouldn’t be frightened. It didn’t work as well as he’d hoped. Naturally, she’d be alarmed, having escaped rape and murder. What he didn’t expect was for her to scream and jump out of the vehicle.
Pericles turned it back around. The girl stopped tumbling and felt in the sheath for her knife he now had. When she didn’t find it she jumped back and took a fighter’s stance, baring her teeth, her face dotted with bruises from the man’s fists. Then her eyes fell on the body strapped to the roof of the buggy and her jaw dropped in horror. Pericles approached her slowly, his hands up and out in a gesture of non-aggression. “Don’t be afraid of me.”
She whirled around, unconvinced, looking for the others. Her pupils were dilated, nostrils flared. At any moment she could go either way. He respected her fear, admired her bravery. “Where’s David? What happened to him?” she asked, the words quivering.
“He was killed by the others. I killed them.” He took a few careful steps toward her and she retreated, her gaze alternately locked on his feet and hands. “But I’m not going to hurt you.”
The woman wrapped her arms around her upper body, taking in the sight of his short trousers and naked torso. It wasn’t unknown for human males to be hairy but he knew he was furrier than any she’d likely seen. He took hold of the helmet. “I’m going to pull this off now but before I do, I want to tell you I don’t look like...” He couldn’t explain adequately so he just removed it and waited for the shock to set in.
She cried out in terror and fell to the ground, unable to take it in, her arms tightening around her for comfort. “Oh, my God! Who...what...”
Once she managed to focus on his face again, trembling, he said, “My name is Pericles. What’s yours?” He squatted down to make himself smaller and less fearsome.
“Danna,” she answered in a high, squeaking voice.
“Danna. You’re safe now. I have to take you back to my people. You’ve been injured. We have food and water and shelter.”
She got up and dusted herself off but maintained her distance. Understandable. “Your people. Do they look like you?”
He shook his head. “No. I’m the only one like me. The others are...dogs and cats...only bigger. Most of them walk on two legs.”
Whirling around, she began leaking the salty smell of tears, her eyes raised to the sky. “I don’t understand. How can this be?”
Pericles waved toward the buggy. “I’ll tell you on the way but we have to go now. There might be more like those who attacked you and David.” He tried to keep his voice low and soothing. It must have worked because the girl followed him, keeping a few feet between them. She got back in the buggy and her wide eyes stared at him for a moment as she crowded against the bars of the cage. Her actions told him she was used to making quick decisions on character. The air of wariness said she’d been wrong once or twice. She was smart enough to know she should be prepared to be wrong again but there was nothing he could do to convince her she was safe. She’d find out.
Turning in the direction of the oasis and its crumbling warehouse building, he tried to explain. “We were created in a laboratory. Genetic experiments. I don’t know how they did it. All the old ways are gone. With the help of some who worked there, we were set free when the beginning of the end came. Know this. To us humans are the strange ones. The Changed will not like it that I’m bringing you here. They may hate you but no one will attack you.”
She kept her arms across her breasts and he found this slightly amusing. They were functional to The Changed, merely a way to feed the very young. Females didn’t bother to cover them, even if they sometimes had more than two. It was rare that litters were born anymore. He knew she’d be surprised at the variations she found when they arrived home.
Pericles came to a halt and roared out to signal his return, making the girl jump and almost run away again. He knew they’d heard the sound of the motor and wanted to let them know whatever was coming was under his control. He began driving around the back of the building to the large, open entryway. His extended family came out of hiding a few at a time, peering around the wooden crates to make sure it was safe. Once assured, the little ones came streaming out, some of them screaming excited words, others too overcome with amazement to make more than woofs and meows.
They came to a halt when they saw Danna. Poor girl. Petrified, she flattened to the seat, gripping her shoulders. Two half-grown dog-men had stopped staring and began to sniff the corpse tied to the roof of the cage. Eager, they clambered aboard and untied the knots.
Kellus and Manda crept up to the buggy as Pericles climbed out and began removing the packed items for everyone to peruse. Kellus’s lip curled in a snarl. “What have you done? How dare you?”
“Did you not hear the sound of motors?” Pericles asked, calm but ready for anyone to make a sudden move toward Danna.
“We heard. And we stayed here,” Manda answered. Nostrils, quivering, she leaned in closer for a sniff. Kellus was eyeing Danna warily but approached. Danna backed further into the cage, her jaw grinding, not willing to take her eyes off Manda and Kellus except to peek away when one of the little ones glided up to inspect her more closely.
“Where were you?” Kellus demanded to know.
“On the butte.” He patted the side of the cage and waved in Danna’s direction. “That’s where I saw them chasing her and a male. There were three. There are three still out there, dead. We need to hide their bodies and clean up in case they were followed. It’s night and we’ll be safe as long as we can cover our tracks.”
“Her name is Danna.” He stepped over and held out a hand. Keeping both arms over her chest, she ignored his hand and got out on her own. He led her to his corner where he slept. Taking out his knife, he cut a hole in his blanket for her to put her head through. “Cover up with this.”
She fingered the cloth. It was thin and patched with a variety of old materials. As long as they washed their clothes seldom and dried them out of the wind, they’d proved to be surprisingly durable. “Don’t you need it?” she asked, meeting his eye.
He shook his head. “You need it more. Stay here until I come back.”
She hastily snatched the blanket over her head. “No. Don’t leave me here alone. At least give my knife back.”
His eyes widened at her bloodthirstiness. “I can’t do that. If you trust me enough to want to come with me, trust me in this. Nothing’s going to happen to you. It’s not our way.” He pointed to his area and hoped that she’d at least feel safe in the corner with her back to the wall. Abruptly, he turned about and went to fetch two pieces of tarpaulin and some rope. He tossed them in the recess behind the driver and passenger seats, noting how Aces, self-named for his card playing ability, had claimed the front seat. Four others climbed on the jungle gym, legs dangling, talking and laughing. He found a plastic container fit for storing fuel and a siphon hose and threw them in, too.
“What’s that for?” asked Cobby, a young cat person.
“There are three other motors out there. We have to bring them back. Nothing can be left to be found.”
“All right!” Cobby was happy at the prospect of getting to drive.
Pericles looked up and saw that Wim was one of the dogs going on the mission. “I’m sorry Wim. You can’t go. Gato!” A cat-man rose and loped his way. He regarded Wim with an apology. “These vehicles require two hands.”
Wim shook his paw and slapped the cage with his hand but got down and let Gato take his place. With his brothers holding on for life and limb, he headed into the desert night, hurrying as much as possible. He didn’t think the humans would be out at night looking for the others of their number but he couldn’t discount that they might have found a way to make light and were even now on their way. Humans were clever inventors. Lights required a source of power, though, and he didn’t know what it would be. Solar lights, maybe, charged during the daytime. Wind power could only be stored in batteries now and the bombs had ruined those. Pericles knew this from the educational programs he’d watched over twenty years spent in the laboratory.
They arrived at the scene of his killings and almost ran over David. Aces got busy tying the bodies on the cage and the rest used their night vision and nostrils to scoop up the bloody sand and put it in a bucket. Pericles siphoned gas from the four-wheeled motorcycle and retched when some of the fuel got in his mouth. He sent Gato up the butte to retrieve his over-large canteen then poured the noxious gas into David’s empty motorcycle tank. It took him and Cobby a minute to figure out that he had to kick the starter to get it to crank and turn the handle toward him to get the engine to whine. While mashing buttons they turned on a dim headlight.
“Take this back to the warehouse. Don’t get carried away,” he said. Cobby grinned and cautiously puttered away. The engine died and over an experimental study they discovered the clutch and brakes and gear shift. After that Cobby took off, his yowl of delight wafting back on the air, the buzz of the motorcycle like a huge, angry bee. It teetered crazily and Cobby dumped it. Not letting it get to him, Pericles watched as he jumped back on and drove away with more success.
Gato came down from the butte hauling Pericles’s water jug. He was also carrying a leather jacket he’d taken from the street fighter. Setting the water jug down, he slung the jacket over him and growled to find it was too small to fit. “Shit!” Pericles almost smiled. It was rare to hear any of The Changed imitate human vulgarity. Gato threw the jacket into the buggy, now decorated with the limp corpses.
They made a slower, more careful round of the area aided by the lights, searching for anything that might indicate someone had been here. Pericles tied two tarps to the back that fell to the sand and then some. They figured out which button started the three and four-wheeled motorcycles and he explained how he wanted Aces and Geeter to move slowly enough to sweep the sand free of tracks before heading to the warehouse. Once they had grasped the idea of how to drive, he and Gato climbed into the buggy and made for home. Only now did Gato register his outrage. He glared at Pericles. “Why did you bring the female human with you? Why didn’t you let her die or kill her?”
“We’re not animals!” he snapped. He slung a hand back at the desert behind him. “Those I killed were worse than human. You didn’t see how they were. Two of them beat one of their own almost to death and the other was going to couple with the girl without permission.”
“We’re not animals?” Gato repeated, grinning.
“Not entirely. We’re more like humans are, supposedly, than these men were. Yes, we’re animals but we’re human, too.”
Gato coughed like a panther. “I try to forget that.”
Pericles stopped and grabbed him by the back of his neck, thrusting his face into Gato’s. “Don’t! You aren’t old enough to remember how it was. I do. Some of the humans were kind. They taught me many things and I observed how much they loathed what was done to us.”
He began driving again as Gato sulked. “Even if she’s allowed to stay, she won’t ever be one of us.”
“No.” Pericles was beginning to regret his rash decision but it was too late now. “She won’t.