New Eden

Scene 9

She came up to the cave from the field-side of the waterfall, trying to avoid as many people as possible. The little ones in her shirt began to wake, wiggling and squirming against her; soon they'd start making a ruckus, and Echo knew not everyone would see this as a perfect opportunity.

Feeling quite victorious, she ducked under the waterfall and turned into the cave entrance with a huge smile of victory on her face.

"Oh, hey, Echo!" a voice called out, shattering her moment.

DeShawn jogged over to her across the open front of the cavern. His dark face looked even more angular, now that he'd taken to shaving his head; but he only ever smiled at her. He'd lost a lot of the rounded city-weight--they had all lost the round plushness that came from a 7-Eleven on every corner--and gained some delicious biceps.

"Hey, girl," he said with a warm-eyed smile. He still had a little bit of hobble from his leg-wound, but it was healing nicely and he was likely to be sent back to the lumber yard and full duty again soon. So, from now on she'd only see him at council meetings, likely.

She stopped, a smile on her face. And then her shirt mewed, reminding her of current priorities. "Hey, have you seen Tika, anywhere?" She stood back from him, arms crossed over her chest, trying to be as nonchalant about holding the little wriggling beasts as she secretly could. "It's kinda important."

His chin jerked back, and his face took on its usual cold expression. He shook his head. "I don't know, man. Maybe in her cubby?" And he walked on, his whole body stiff and angry.

She sighed as she looked after him. Why were boys so stupid sometimes? She shook her head, and hurried over to the side of the cavern where Tika kept her walls. Any time she saw someone who looked like they might talk to her, she turned her shoulder like she didn't see them. She already had DeShawn pissed at her, she didn't want the rest of the camp coming down with the crankies.

By the time she reached the edge of Tika's wall, the little ones were trying to claw their way out of her shirt, or through Echo's flesh, they didn't seem to tell the difference. "Hey, Tika, please gods tell me you're here."

"I'm here," she answered, voice cool and mellow, always in perfect control. A full-blood Sioux with the height and cheekbones to prove it, she was a veterinarian in the before, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. "But just about to head out the door. Ted sent word they had some more piglets last night, and I've got the check them out."

She came around the edge of the cubby, paused with a brief smile. "Oh, hi, Echo. Want to come with me?"

Echo opened her mouth to answer, when her shirt growled, and a scaly tail popped out of the bottom. She gave a guilty grin. "I found something."

Tika's face lit up, and she grabbed Echo's shoulder and yanked her into the cubby. "Put it on the desk!" she whispered as she drew the wicker walls closed. Privacy in the cave was really something more of a shared illusion; by now the hot rumor that some new beast had been brought in was riding a wave out of the door and into the fields. But one had to maintain the niceties of social illusions, thus is society built and maintained.

"Them," Echo corrected, pulling one wriggling, mewling handful out and dropping it on the desk before getting in her shirt for the other. "And they have some serious nails, let me tell you. I may need stitches. At least a clean shirt!"

"Those are dragkats," Tika gasped, squatting down to look at them up close. "Their eyes aren't even open!" she gasped again. "What happened? How did you get them?"

The two beasts crawled blindly over each other in the middle of the desk, scaly blue tails wrapping around each other. They had just the faintest fur tufts on their long, low backs; but their faces looked just like newborn kittens, eyes and ears closed, toothless mouths mewing and sucking air.

"They are probably really hungry. I gave them some acorn paste last night, but they haven't had anything since." Echo shrugged. "I was focused on just getting them here."

Tika nodded, watching them with sparkly-eyed fascination as she reached into a cupboard and pulled out a bag of soy-flour, a bowl and spoon, and a gourd of water. "How...?"

"I found the mom, dead, with three kits trying to nurse off her. The mom had a horn or antler or something through her side." Echo shrugged. "The littlest one died this morning. I don't know that these two will make it."

"If I have anything to say about it, they will." Tika had a determined look on her face as she mixed a thin gruel. "We'll have to try some pig's milk, see if that works out. But this should do for now." She poured the gruel into a shallow bag, and cut two corners so that the gruel leaked out, and nudged the critters one each to a corner. They proved how hungry they were by latching without a bit of fuss, suckling hard and furiously.

Echo teared up a little, relieved to see them eating. "I figured, we know that the dragkats are territorial. If we can domesticate some, they can establish their territory with us, maybe help with some of the flock predation." She gave another shrug. "Plus, who doesn't want a cat."

As the little greedy gusses made short work of the sack, their bellies bulging, Tika tried to examine them as gently as possible. "I'm guessing these are both girls; but that's just a guess. They may have their testicals drop later in development. They look newly born, see? You can see the remains of the umbilical cord." She giggled, a little nervously. "They're beautiful."

"In that ugly, scaly baby sort of way, yeah." Echo nodded. "I was worried, though, that some people might want to kill them. Because, you know, competition, I guess. Too many predators spoil the soup."

"Over my dead body," Tika snapped, then added a smile to soften it. "Sorry, a little bit of Momma Bear came out, there." She reached out to stroke a little head. A loud rumble of gurgling purring came out, as the two kits twisted around each other, tails wrapped around them, sound asleep. "It would be foolish to risk the opportunity to domesticate these creatures. We have centuries of dog and cats as pets and protectors to say otherwise."

"But, will Council see it that way?" Echo chewed her lip, holding pressure over the worst of the scratches on her side to try and stop the bleeding. She'd put herself on the line, quite a bit, to get these critters here. And people were still stupid, all this way from Earth.

Tika stood, and grabbed a clean towel from her cupboard to wrap around the sleeping ones. "This is a professional call, and I will make sure that they see things my way." She frowned, her brow wrinkling with thought. "The important part is finding people who have the time and nature to care for the kits." She looked up to meet Echo's eyes. "I'm sorry, but I'd have to say not you. Not that you're not capable, just that your duties are too mobile to focus on domestication."

"Yeah, I get that. No worries. Maybe, though, when I retire and I'm just teaching young scouts, maybe I can be on the waitlist for one?" Echo gave a sad smile. "I miss my cat."

Tika nodded. "I hear you. And, of course." She reached out and gently touched the felt of an ear, causing more loud gurgling purring. "Can I impose upon you further?" she asked, hesitantly, still watching the kits.

Echo nodded. "Sure. What?"

"You have to be careful. I don't want you getting hurt for it." She looked up, frowning at the blood seeping through Echo's shirt. "I'll ask for a special basket to be made, maybe. Something easy to carry, but will protect both you and the kit."

"We need more kits," Echo agreed.

"At least one other, a boy. But, yes, the more we have, the more genetic diversity we can bring to the domestication process, the healthier our stock will be." Tika nodded. "Do you mind?"

Echo shrugged. "I kind of knew that would be coming. Although the basket idea is a good one. And not just for the kits. I saw some goat-like lizards that might prove helpful with keeping the undergrowth down."

Tika smiled, a cool and professional expression. "You're becoming quite the eco-champion. Now," she slapped her hands on her thighs. "Take your shirt off and let me see those scratches. I can patch you up as well as the medics can."

Echo winced as she pulled the cloth up slowly over her head. "They got me good a couple of times."

Tika hissed. "Stitches, I'm afraid," she said, reaching behind her into the cupboard. "Promise to keep them clean, and I won't make you stay in on leave."

Echo nodded, looking away as Tika scourged flesh that had already been flayed. The lack of anesthesia for such things was something of a worry, in Echo's mind. These weren't her first cold-turkey stitches. She tried her best not to flinch.

"One more thing," Tika said, bent close to Echo's waist.

"You have a needle in me, anything you want will be yours," Echo tried not to laugh, so her stomach wouldn't move.

"Don't mention the kits to anyone, until I've got them placed with someone?" She used one of their rare metal knives to cut the thread. "Just one more section, I think. The rest should do fine without stitches," she mumbled. "I don't want to be deluged by well-meaning but inappropriate foster offers."

"Sure," Echo hissed, as the needle bit into her side. "Mum's the word."

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