I’ve got two main projects that I’m currently working on. Both are building toward their final climax. This is a couple of scenes from fairly early in one of them:
For three days, Tanaka had been pursuing the Thisok. The Great Pack Leader himself had served as Tanaka’s sponsor.
The rules, as explained to him were simple. He went into the field with nothing more than the traditional bone knife, effectively a short sword for a human. Nothing else. No tools, no weapons, no provisions, and no clothes. Everything he uses in the hunt he must wrest from the wilderness itself. At the end, he had to return with a tooth taken from a living Thisok, one that still lived to hunt again.
One further rule remained. No weapon but the bone dagger may pierce the flesh of the Thisok on this hunt.
So in addition to trying to take down the Thisok, Tanaka had to obtain food, ensure his own protection from the elements and other predators, and do it without the natural strength or inborn weaponry of an adult Eres.
He had one advantage. Humans, unlike either Eres or the Thisok, were cursorial hunters. That meant that they could pursue a target at a modest pace and keep pursuing it and keep pursuing it for hours, days even. The target was generally faster, it would run away from the human but would stop shortly thereafter. Before it had recovered from its sprint, the human would catch up and it would run again. Over and over, with the target growing progressively more exhausted with each repeat until it collapsed from exhaustion.
That worked so long as the Thisok moved away when he approached.
Tanaka’s whole body ached, but especially his legs. He had picked up the Thisok’s trail early on the second day of his hunt. He had been walking constantly since then, pausing only to check sign and ensure he was still on the beast’s trail or to pluck one of the plentiful fruits for its moisture.
So far, his unfamiliar scent had kept the Thisok uncertain, and moving away from him.
Tanaka paused at the edge of a stand of trees. His vision blurred and he shook his head to clear it. The neo-provigil, taken as a hedge just before he had begun the hunt, was wearing off and his body begged for him to lie down and sleep. Somewhere above, lightfliers were circling, tracking his progress. He could signal them; call this off.
There. On the field. He spied the thisok. It was moving, with a decided stagger, not more than two hundred yards ahead.
“Well, old fellow,” Tanaka murmured, “looks like your as tired as I am.” He looked down. Yes, the knife was still in his hand. He had dropped it once before without even realizing it and had had to backtrack an hour to find it.
Every such mistake drained him while giving the thisok opportunity to recover.
The wind shifted, now coming not from behind but to the side. Tanaka saw an instant change in the thisok’s demeanor. No longer confused by an unfamiliar scent carried on the breeze, it’s eyes turned toward Tanaka. It charged.
“Shit!” Tanaks spun and fled back into the trees. Adrenaline gave his feet wings as he leaped for a low-hanging branch.
Without being quite sure how he got there, he found himself scrambling higher into the tree top just as the thisok broke into the woods. It leaped, scrabbling at the bole of the tree with its claws but not finding purchase to climb. Its claws tore long strips from the tree as the beast howled.
Once he was confident that the thisok could not reach him, Tanaka settled down in a crotch of the tree to rest.
When Tanaka opened his eyes, night had fallen. All three moons graced the sky providing enough light for even Tanaka’s human eyes to see clearly. The thisok was nowhere to be seen.
While the unintended sleep had restored some of his energy, it had done nothing for the all-pervasive aches. With slow movement, he climbed down among the three’s branches, hung full length from the lowest branch, then dropped to the ground. He spotted the bone dagger where he had dropped it in his leap into the tree. He scooped it up.
He turned in place, letting his gaze sweep the woods around him while also listening, seeking with eyes and ears for any clue that the thisok might be waiting, ready to spring.
No sign of the thisok. He knelt, examining the torn-up ground. After shredding the local vegetation, the thisok had apparently headed.
He wet a finger and held it up. Such weak breeze as there was blew from before him. He doubted that the thisok would find his scent confusing any more and so thought it best not to be scented. Tanaka would have to find some other way to keep the beast moving. And who knew how much effort he had lost by his unintended nap. Crouching low, he advanced in the direction the thisok had gone.
Just outside the copse, the thisok lay still as if it had simply dropped, unable to proceed. Crouching close enough to see its shallow, ragged breathing, Tanaka thought that was much what had happened. Its fury at the tree had expended the last of its energy.
Tanaka stood. After a quick glance to see that there was a climbable tree ready to hand he raised his arms and waved them. “Hey!”
The thisok did not move. Tanaka stepped forward and repeated his wave and shout.
Holding his breath, Tanaka crept up to the side of the Thisok. The thisok remained unmoving although a low groan rose from its chest.
The thisok, like the terran shark, constantly grew new teeth and shed old ones. And so it was a simple matter for Tanaka to find a tooth ready to break free and pry it loose with the bone knife. He picked up the fallen tooth, raised the dagger in salute, and turned and walked away.
A few minutes later he stopped at the hum of a lightflyer approaching. The lightflyer set down next to him and an Eres stepped out.
“I salute you, Great Pack Leader of Tanaka Pack.”
At that voice, Tanaka felt his eyebrows climbing toward his hairline. “I salute you,” he said in response, “Great Pack Leader of all the Eres.”
Tanaka entered the Great Pack Leader’s office, followed closely by Kaleka.
“I greet you, Great Pack Leader of all the Eres,” Tanaka said.
“I great you, Great Pack Leader among humans.”
Behind him, Tanaka could hear Kaleka shift uncomfortably. Tanaka understood. He had not said he bared the throat.
Krashnark paused for a moment, then gestured acknowledgement. “Sit. I will have refreshments brought.”
“Thank you,” Tanaka said. He saw a chair designed for humans, not an office chair but a reclining chair more more appropriate to watching grav-soccer on holovision than to office meetings. He sat and leaned back in the chair. Kaleka took a position behind him.
Krashnark, from his position behind his work table, looked down at Krashnark. “Rest yourself young one. All is safe here.”
Kaleka gestured acknowledgement and sat in one of the Eres stool-chairs.
Krashnark turned back to Tanaka. “Are you well enough?”
Tanaka rubbed his right arm. “Sore, if I’m to be honest. It’s been an intense few days.”
“But worth it, Great Pack Leader,” Krashnark said. “Worth it indeed.”
Tanaka frowned at the repetition, calling him “Great Pack Leader”.
“Worth it? Sheshak told me why he wanted me to make that hunt.” Tanaka glanced sideways at Kaleka. “Or perhaps there was more to it than that?”
Krashnark made the hissing sound that served as laughter for the Eres. “More? Indeed. Tell me, young Kaleka, what did you think of the human’s Hunt.”
“You may speak,” Krashnark said. “I ask for a reason.”
“The human is terrifying,” Kaleka said. “There was no charge, no rending, no trapping. He just walked. And when the thisok trotted away from the human, the human walked. And when the Thisok stopped, the human walked, and approached. And the thisok trotted away again. And again the human came, still walking. And again the thisok departed. And again the human came. And again and again and again. As a youngling, I had nightmares so: the monster that never quits. In the end, he walked up to the thisok and took its tooth. And the thisok raised neither claw nor fang to stop him.”
Krashnark touched tongue to teeth in agreement. “Three times we Eres have gone forth in Great Hunts against the humans and their allies. Three times, they have driven us back. This, I think, is why.”
Tanaka spread his hands, a gesture that, by coincidence, in this context meant much the same to Eres and human. “Is that why you asked me to come here, to tell me I’ve become an Eres monster?”
“Not entirely,” Krashnark said. “Hear my words, Great Pack Leader.”
Tanaka tilted his head and waited.
“The Jekat sect say that those who know, who feel, who think, your word…sothont…”
Tanaka nodded. Lacking lips, the Eres could not produce the “f” sound.
“Sothont are not lawful prey to Eres.”
“Are you Jekat then?”
“I am not,” Krashnark said. “As Great Pack Leader to all the Eres, I must be above individual sects.”
“I see,” Tanaka said.
“Sothont are not lawful pray, but all sothont, whether Eres, or Human, or Rela, or others, hunt. All.”
Tanaka caught his breath. This could be dangerous territory. “Not all humans hunt,” he said softly.”
“Humans as a type hunt. That some individuals do not is unimportant.” Krashnark stood and paced behind his desk. “Not all hunters are sothont, but all sothont are hunters. Or so we thought.”
Tanaka leaned forward waiting.
“Keshak-tal,” Krashnark said. “They were keshak-tal.”
Grass-eaters, Tanaka thought. “Were?”
“Are,” Krashnark said. “They eat only the plants of their homeworld. Perhaps others too, now.”
“I do not understand.”
“A ranging vessel found their home. They had been long confined to shipboard and thought to stop for some hunting. Not all Keshak-tal are meek. Not all keshak-tal are stupid. But these… They used tools. They used fire. They had steam power. We think they had electricity. And they breed.”
“They breed. Each female gives birth to a litter of four every year. They have no predators, save each other.”
Tanaka chilled. “That does not sound good.”
“They breed and they fight. They slaughtered the crew of the Third Fang Ch’chnak. They took the ship and…”
“Don’t tell me they learned to use it.”
Krashnark stopped and looked straight at Tanaka. “You guess. They took the ship and they fought other Eres. And they defeated them and took their ships.”
“I don’t see the problem,” Tanaka said. “A few primitives with stolen ships?”
“They have taken thirty two worlds,” Krashnark said. “Singly, or in small groups, we can defeat them. But they swarm. And they are building ships, copies of ours.”
“Wait a minute,” Tanaka said. “How can they be…”
“I do not know. A few, perhaps in captured yards, but they build thousands.”
“Given what you told me was their starting point, they must be the galaxy champs in fast learning.”
“I do not know. I only know that they will be here in less than three hundred days and I cannot stop them.”
Kaleka’s chair fell over as Kaleka rose and stumbled backward. Krashnark rounded his work table and dropped to a low squat in front of Tanaka. “I called you here so I might beg aid of the humans in protecting my people.” He lifted his head high in the air. “I bare the throat, Tanaka, Great Pack Leader among the Humans. I bare the throat.”