The Changed -- Chapter Nine -- 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. 

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Waiting For The Invasion

The woman in question was watching Pericles put some Cat and Dog People through a war drill, mostly hand to hand training. A cat-man named Aces substituted as the enemy. Using a variety of techniques, he demonstrated how to break an arm, a neck, a leg, a back. He drew a rough outline of the human body on a wood wall with a piece of charcoal and then rings to show the best spots to put a knife in to cause maximum damage.

“Let’s say I find a human about to attack Selisa over there. I come up behind him.” Aces took a stance in front of the Dog Woman and raised his hand as if it held a knife. Danna’s eyebrows rose as Aces and the Dog Woman both crouched and took this seriously, their lips drawn back in feral snarls. Drool pooled in the dog woman’s jaws and dripped out the side, her human nose wrinkled back as viciously as any snout. The sounds they made raised the hair on the back of her neck.

Pericles wrapped both arms about Aces just under the armpits. “You’ll have to be fast, now. Lift up so your opponent’s arms reach for the sky.” Aces actually attempted to get away from Pericles, he didn’t just go through the motions. Pericles wrestled with him, making those watching howl to urge them on. “Then bring your hands and lock them together behind his head. While he’s flailing around, shift your grip to his ears and tear them off. It won’t be hard to do. When he screams—and he will—he’ll likely reach up to his wounds. That’s when you draw your knife and cut his throat.”

Or…

“We’re more limber than humans, especially the Cat People. If someone has you on the ground with your arms pinned under their knees, place your knees under their butt and kick up. Roll them over with your lower body and twist to a position above them. When they land flat on their backs with their head under yours and your arms now free, take your thumbs and try to push their eyeballs to the back of the skull. Instant death if you make it all the way into the brain.”

Or…

“Use the element of surprise to your favor. None of them have ever seen anything like us before. They’re going to pause just to look at you. They’ll be confused. That’s when you want to strike. Throw your spear.” He pounded the drawing on the wall. “Here. Heart shot. Here to the liver. Here or here, kidneys. Don’t try for the head. It’s smaller and protected by bone. Aim for the soft tissues. If you can get any of these places that’ll be a disabling wound. Cut the spine and they’re paralyzed. Then you finish them off.”

As instructive as this was, she lost her stomach for it after a while. The non-coms were packing up and she offered to help. Te and Haja were the only ones to accept it. They rolled clothing items and eating utensils into larger pieces of cloth and tied them with some of the tough, fibrous ropes they’d made. Lids on buckets of oil and seeds were secured. Danna saw more than one human skull bowl. They hadn’t been joking after all and she didn’t want to know how they’d gotten them. “You’re going to move, aren’t you?” she asked Te.

“We probably will.” Te sighed and looked at the desert with faraway eyes. “I hope if the humans come looking for the ones Pericles killed they won’t find anything and go away. I birthed all my children here. This is home.”

Haja spoke up. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Te smiled at Danna over her bent back. “You have a bad feeling about everything.”

Danna couldn’t manage to smile back. She, too, had grim thoughts about the near future because she knew Dancy. Looking at all these odd...people...she couldn’t imagine how they’d hold up in a fight against The Mayor and his thugs. Dancy had guns. The Changed had sticks. Well, they had two guns and eleven bullets. She’d have to make every one count.

A pounding noise came from the rear where they were making sleds out of pallets and the seats of plastic chairs. When they were tested they slid readily over the sand but weren’t yet fully loaded. Discussions were being held on whether the stores of fuel were still any good and she couldn’t believe they hadn’t used it for cooking and light already. When she remembered that they didn’t need to cook their food it made her a little sick, especially about David. He’d been so nice and tried to help her get away and was killed for his effort.

It was decided to drain the three wheeler and see if the fuel they had was still good. Amazingly, it was. Looking around the place, Danna was surprised the army had abandoned all this stuff. They either left in a hurry or else no longer gave a damn. Pericles’s “people” had adapted it to their own purposes in surprising ways.

The medical equipment, for example, was formed of odds and ends. Danna couldn’t imagine what a fishing tackle box was doing in the middle of the desert, yet here it was. Menius, the healer, utilized fishing line for stitching wounds, cutting barbs and flattening eyes of hooks to use as needles. Salves were stored in old tins that once held ink for stampers. Herbs filled old bags. Tiny screwdrivers, sharpened to wicked points served as dental probes and they used solder to fill the holes. Just thinking about it made her teeth hurt.

A shy, young Dog Woman approached her with a battered guitar she’d restrung with gut and demonstrated a natural gift for playing the thing. As she listened to the playing it attracted two others with flutes fashioned from wood. A cat-boy slipped up with his plastic bucket drum and began tapping softly to keep time. One by one, children joined them and began to dance. As if in response to the need to take a break from all the serious preparations, the adults trooped over to join in.

Danna couldn’t help but smile and clap along as they threw themselves into the rhythm heart and soul. “Shouldn’t we be doing something else?” she asked Haja. “Getting things ready to move?”

Aces flopped down next to her and grinned. “We are ready. Mostly. We just have to pack things on our backs and make a move. Right now seems an appropriate time to celebrate life because in a few days we might be dead.” He stood and extended a hand to her. “If you’re going to fight with us, you have to join the dance.”

Someone lit fuel pots made of metal light fixtures as the sun went down. There was a great deal of foot stomping and hand clasping, hooting and yelling, barking and shrieking. The children pranced and cavorted, skinny limbs spider-like in shadow. Danna’s heart flew with abandon and she danced, too, feeling freer than she had since she was a child. She stopped in mid-whirl and saw Pericles watching her, his arms crossed, far too serious for the happy occasion. Danna waved for him to join them but he shook his head. Wrinkling her nose, she went back to dancing to the beat of the drum and the skirling of flutes.

He enjoyed watching her and the others but he was too large and clumsy to dance. As always, the music stirred something primitive in his blood but now when he watched Danna it made him feel something else. Two by two, the younger ones paired off and disappeared into the night or among the crates. A vision came to mind of snatching Danna up and bearing her off to somewhere they could be alone.

The Changed were like humans in respect to sexuality. They coupled often, producing fewer children than their animal counterparts. In the second generation had come more instances of mutation, however. A paw instead of a hand or foot. The inability to speak or a tendency to bark or mew frequently when words wouldn’t come. Patchy fur and early onset of adolescence. The third generation had seen more advanced mutation, such as the puppy baby, and an increase in stillbirths or the mother dying in labor.

Pericles was fairly certain he couldn’t impregnate a human female but it was still unthinkable. He imagined now the healer handing him a bundle of new joy and looking into the face of...what? What could possibly come of him and a woman? The thought of it made him so nauseous he turned away from the dancers and went to his corner. No. There was no cure for his loneliness.

Danna came to bed shortly, huddling against the wall. He saw she’d been using one of his packs, as he did, to pillow her head. Now it would smell of human but he couldn’t really complain about that. Apes also had sweat glands. Only some of the Cat and Dog People had gotten them from the DNA combination.

Something else made him turn his back to her and stare at the crate in front of him. At the lab he’d never enjoyed the smell of humans. Now one lay not two feet away and he couldn’t get her out of his nose. Prior to her washing, the others had whispered or signaled silently their offense at the ripe odor of her dirty skin. Having bathed only made the scent of her sex come through more clearly. Pericles had a raging, hard—what had the humans called it? Cock. Yes, that was it. Since it was emerging from his man half, he might as well call it by its proper name.

Was he disgusted by his response to her? Yes and no. Part of him couldn’t help it. Human and ape genes were virtually the same. Some cats were ninety percent but dogs only twenty-five percent. It was how they were coded in sequence that made the difference. Pericles was no geneticist. He just knew what being in proximity with a human female was doing to the human male in him. They had, to put it in the vernacular, well and truly fucked him over. He wanted her the way a man wanted a woman but what woman would want a man like him?

Sometime in the night he awoke with a warm feeling at his back. It was her. She’d rolled over against him in the dark, innocently enough. He knew it couldn’t have been on purpose. Pericles inched away from her, the hair on his skin singing from the contact.

In the morning Kellus and Manda woke everyone early. The watchers reported no sign of anyone trespassing on their territory but Danna had warned them Dancy would come looking for his brother. Knowing it was going to happen made her stomach knot up. Whatever the chasers had been driving the night they’d ridden her and David to ground hadn’t belonged to the men themselves. Those had belonged to Dancy except for JoJo’s. When they came looking and didn’t find the motorcycles Dancy would be furious about more than just his brother. No one stole from him and got away with it.

Everyone scurried around making last minute decisions for the move. She knew they blamed her for this and Pericles probably did, too. If she hadn’t wanted to get out of Dirty Town so badly no one would know The Changed were even here. She should have waited for a meaner, more clever man to run away with. A well thought out plan might have worked but it was too late for second thoughts.

She witnessed the changing of the guard on the butte and listened from a distance as they pored over an old map and decided on another hiding place not too far distant. Once everyone knew the plan they hurried to stow what they were leaving behind and made last-minute preparations for what little they would carry on their backs. Sleds were loaded, the vehicles fueled and batteries well-charged in the sun. Everything was ready.

Pericles approached her. “If you were to guess, how many men would you say they’d send?”

Danna shook her head. “I don’t want to guess wrong.”

Pericles sighed and slapped the map against his palm. “We need to know. Some will have to stay behind to stop them from following our trail. We’ll take precautions but I want to cover all the ways this could go wrong.”

She thought about it. Men were going to come, it was just a question of how many. “I would say he’ll send at least four to investigate. Maybe more. JoJo was worth three of the others.”

Without another word he stalked away and chose Aces and himself to stay behind, plus the ones on the butte. His eyes went back to where she was sitting as they discussed this. “And we have Danna and the guns against them and theirs.”

When all was said and done there was nothing to do but leave. Parents carried their little ones strapped across backs and chests in slings. The vehicles drug pallets behind them, one loaded down with a barrel of fuel, another with water. Only what was absolutely necessary was making the trip. Clearly they hoped to be able to return home after the fight with Dancy was over. Danna watched as they moved toward the far horizon, a strange, rag-tag procession, part human, part animal. She wondered if she’d live to ever see any of them again. Dancy didn’t play.



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