It was the sound that drew him. It was familiar, yet it resonated with his distant memory – back from the time when he lived on Earth. The planetary soundscape was wildly different here, and an Earth sound was out of place and cause for caution. He vanished off the side of the path.
An animal was in distress; he knew the sound. There were low growls and drawn out whines interspersed with hisses. A wild cat? Something new for the human refugees to fear in the night.
As he neared, he changed his mind. The distress was due to humans. He could hear the spoken English, mixed with rowdy laughter and the smell of a campfire.
Dammit. I just can’t seem to leave them behind, he thought.
Apparently this group had the same idea he had: to cut and run from the designated colonisation areas and make it on their own, free of rules and boundaries. As he watched, his large wolf-bred dog, Dex, tensed beside his army-issued pants, ears springing upright, and sniffing the air. Sniper felt Dex’s desire to track the new scent, but Dex obediently held his position in silence.
“More surprises, huh, Dex?” he asked, but Dex ignored the question, staring ahead fixedly.
Sniper had been his former occupation, and he had adopted the title, leaving his name on Earth. Occasionally he wished he still had his rifle. He had been roaming the wild bush for months now, enjoying the primitive simplicity of his new life. This world, Llaac, had new dangers, and many humans had not learnt the form they came in quickly enough. His fitness had helped him survive. At nearly six foot tall, his height was well complimented by a solid, well muscled build, although more on the lean side since leaving Earth.
The distressed animal growls had stopped, so Sniper dared to move closer for a cautious look. His brown hair and pale brown eyes emerged from the depths of the leaves, his gaze intent.
He took in the sight and stifled a gasp. The sounds were not coming from an animal – the motley group of men had captured an alien.
Sniper hadn’t seen one like this before. She looked like a cat. A giant, humanoid cat. Her whole body was covered in grey fur, lighter across her chest and belly, her ears were positioned at the top of her head, and she had bright blue eyes that shone as she moved her head.
She was trussed up and hanging limply from a makeshift frame built from salvaged pieces of steel, resembling the hanging gallows of the old times. Her wrists were bound together, and then tied to her waist. Her ankles were also tied, and a chain dropped down from the ankle binding to connect to the bottom of the frame, so she could not kick or use her feet to free her hands.
She must have them spooked, he thought.
A large unshaven man in dirt-coated clothes emerged from a camouflage-print tent. He had a bag with him and walked up to the alien, sparking a frenzied struggle.
“Hey, Joe,” the man shouted over his shoulder. “We left it too long this time, she’s spittin’ mad!”
“Idiots!” came the reply from out of Sniper’s sight. “Give the stuff to me.”
The bag was handed over, and the new man took a pinch and threw the dry powder into the alien’s face from a distance safely beyond her snapping jaws.
The furry alien writhed within her bindings, hissing her anger, but only for a moment. The rage fell from her face in seconds, and her movement slowed. Sniper had first thought the alien was in pain, but saw that in reality the powder was a kind of sedative drug. The alien’s face had gone slack, and her expression had become that of a stoned teenager.
As she relaxed, the man blew another pinch of powder into her face. This time her head rolled back and she fell into a drugged sleep. Her mouth sagged open, revealing savage fangs. Sniper shook his head; what the hell were these guys playing at?!
The men had gathered, and Sniper counted six. They unchained her feet and lowered her down from the metal frame, and two carried her into a tent.
“Oh yeah, party time!” one said, and they laughed while they waited their turn.
Sniper had twigged to what they were doing and revulsion swept through him to think that fellow humans were holding an alien as a sex slave. It was men like this that had pushed him to head out on his own; to leave his own miserable species far behind and search for a better life on this alien world.
He realised he was growling, vocalising his disapproval in the manner of his dog companion, Dex. They each had a small alien implant in their head, allowing for some basic communication between man and dog to be passed directly to each others minds. Their bond was solid, and far from that of a man and his pet. The access to technology was one of the few benefits all humans had gained since the Earth had surrendered in the war against the Drac, the crocodilian aliens that had been systematically conquering the universe.
Sniper watched the human camp, pondering. He knew the men would not be the easy kills they appeared to be. If they had survived away from the camp for this long then they must have some skills. He had his knife and Dex, but taking down all six at once would risk an injury.
Sticking to the vegetation, he crawled closer, watching. He knew the moment he was waiting for would appear soon, confirmed as one man broke away into the bush to relieve himself. Perfect.
Sniper covered the distance quickly, waiting for him to finish and turn around. Then he leapt; one hand wrapping around the mouth while the other drove the knife up through the back, penetrating the heart.
He maintained his grip while the life ebbed away from his prey, then dragged the body out of sight. With that done, he moved again, skirting the camp until he was behind the tent containing the captive. He carefully settled in to wait for his next opportunity.
The three waiting men had now stopped their jokes and were looking around.
“He went for a leak, but that was ages back.”
“Shit! I dunno why we put up with the idiot,” he said as he stood. “Bricks! You dumbass, what’re ya’ doing out there?”
The other two were laughing again, elbowing each other. “Bet I know what he’s doing.”
The standing man glared down at them. “You two go find him. He’s thick as two friggen bricks, but he’s useful.”
Grumbling, the two men did as instructed and followed the path Bricks had taken, vanishing into the bush.
Davis watched them go, satisfied by the lack of resistance they offered to his commands. His smug expression slipped as a twig snapped from the other side of their camp. He watched as a large, grey dog stepped into the open, staring at him intently, the hairs on the back of its neck bristling.
“A wild dog? But this planet doesn’t HAVE dogs!”
Davis maintained his eye contact with the animal while he edged backwards, stretching an arm out behind him for a weapon.
The diversion worked perfectly, and Davis backed himself quietly into the gentle grip of Sniper. Sniper sealed his mouth with his hand and firmly planted his knife through the side of the man’s neck, ripping the blade out forwards through the flesh. With the head now only half attached, it folded backwards easily and Sniper wrenched it sideways, grinding bone and severing the spinal cord. Blood hissed from the open flesh, so Sniper flopped the head back in place to stop it coating him red. Dex faded back into the bush, and Sniper did the same, taking Davis’s body with him.
Before Brick’s search party returned, Sniper strode to the tent containing the captive alien and the last two men, picking up a steel mallet on his way. He used it to tap on the tent frame, and then to crack into the side of the head that emerged.
“What tha’?” said the final man from inside. Sniper swung his knife in a long arc, slicing through the tent fabric. The man stared up stupidly as his privacy vanished, his pants around his ankles, and the mallet found his head.
The cat-alien was purring gently to herself, her tail swaying slowly, still intoxicated. She had some rudimentary clothing bundled beside her furry, naked form, and Sniper ran his eyes over the entirety of her body. She had a figure very similar to that of a human, although her head was that of a cat, and her hands and feet sported claws. She was nearly six foot tall, with a wiry build, and her muscle definition showed through the grey fur. Sniper couldn’t help himself, and reached out to stroke her thigh, curling his fingers through the soft fur covering.
“Amazing,” he said to himself, then cut all of the cord binding her. He began to pull her shorts on and started in surprised as claws protruded lazily from her feet as she flexed. When he pulled on her tiny top, she arched her back, sliding against him, purring strongly.
Sniper’s pulse rate had risen sharply by the time he had finally managed the job of wrestling her clothes on.
She was not as heavy as he had expected, so he bundled her up in his arms and left the camp, Dex following behind. She snuggled in against his chest, and her soft purring vibrated through him. Sniper smiled in satisfaction at the success of his rescue.
He kept up a swift pace, marching with her for a couple of hours. With Dex patrolling as a rear guard he was confident the men weren’t coming after him. He was not ready to stop just yet, not feeling they were far enough from their possible retribution.
She had stopped purring and fallen asleep in his arms only half an hour after his rescue. Now she was stirring again, and he hoped that meant the drug had left her system.
She jerked in his arms and her eyes snapped open with rage twisting her face. He reacted with instinctive defence as she snarled and twisted for his face. Claws erupted and snagged his clothes, digging into flesh as he pushed her away.
She hit the ground already tensed and coiled straight back at him, claws whistling up for his face. With adrenal-fed reflexes Sniper dropped away from under her, planted a boot into her stomach and propelled her safely past.
The alien landed easily and spun to face him as he rolled back onto his feet. She crouched again, and Sniper held his empty palms to her as a gesture of peace, speaking in the standard trader language learnt by all of the human refugees.
“Stop, please. I’m a friend. I rescued you.”
“Humans! You humans and your cursed catnip!” she roared and sprang at him again.
Sniper rolled away, not wanting to fight her. Not even sure if he could survive fighting her. Dex galloped into view and took position by his side, called by the danger. He crouched, fur bristled, with his fangs bared, growling aggressively.
She paused only briefly before lunging forward again, the sight of Dex not deterring her in the slightest, but instead he became the target. Dex flew up to meet her, but she leapt above him and landed a clawed foot behind his head, driving him into the dirt and springing off at Sniper.
Watching Dex slam into the ground wrenched Sniper’s heart, and he ran to his defense, evading the alien and landing a blow to her side as he pushed past.
She spun and vanished into the bush.
Dex stood slowly and shook the dirt from his coat, creating a small dust storm. Sniper probed his neck and head, but the claw wounds were only superficial. He gave Dex a relieved hug, then turned to search the bush for signs of the cat-alien. Nothing moved.
“It’s like I always say, Dex, one good turn deserves a homicidal encounter. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
From the upper branches of a tree the Katarr watched her quarry, waiting.
The story continues over at Katarr Kanticles Press
The human Katarr-nappers don’t take their failure lightly, and Sniper and Ressk are forced to find the local aliens – intelligent spider-like creatures, and face the wrath of their God!
© 2008 Damian Herde