They spent a week observing each other.
Alarms sounded as Pansler and Towers were eating with the colonists. The colonists headed for the trees and climbed as far up as possible. Pansler and Towers ran with Arton toward the communication viewer at the gate.
"Some animal's got itself caught in the barrier." A guard spoke to Arton. "Procedure says to flush the system, but my supervisor says to check everything through you now," a definite pause, "Sir."
"Meet us at the barrier. Wait for my orders."
The barrier was an electronic tunnel separating two radically different biostations. As the doctors neared it, they found a rope leaning against the barrier, obviously thrown over the top and onto the other side, where it was tied to the branch of a cactus. But somehow, the rope was slipping, dumping slowly into the barrier a muscular figure. Her arms were full. She couldn't grab and pull the rope.
"It's Hunter Rogue!" Dr. Arton exclaimed. "She's used leaves as a basket. And her basket is full of fish!"
The guard commented, "The next biostation is a desert. Where the hell did it get the fish?"
"Let's worry about getting her out of there first." Towers suggested.
The guard just stared at her.
"Guard, did you hear Dr. Towers? Find a way to get the -- colonist out of there." Pansler was out of breath.
"Great Bitugas -- talking humans!"
"Guard!" Arton growled.
"Yes, sir?" He snapped to attention, but still kept one eye on Towers.
They hauled on the rope while the guard shut off the electricity. Hunter Rogue went into convulsions as her body relaxed from the near deadly voltage.
She heard the New Females talk. The god talks. The Second New answers him.
And does not die!
The First New speaks to her. Hunter reaches up, touches the female's lips to feel them move. The female speaks, and yet the gods do not kill her.
"She doesn't make a sound! She's in agony and doesn't cry out." Towers held Hunter in her arms. Hunter brushed her fingers across Towers' lips. "What kind of taboo would give her that much will power?"
"Katargans believe one only speaks to praise God."
"Katargans?" Arton felt Hunter's pulse.
"It's a long story, Munsi. Let's get Hunter to our ship's sick bay."
"What about her fish?" the guard asked as they walked away.
The smell woke her up. It was wrong. It was like winter -- cold and odorless. But this was not winter. She swam in the lake yesterday.
Memories slowly bounced across her mind: the fire tunnel, fish, much fish, slippery fingers. The fire tunnel snatched her wet feet. The New Females spoke to the gods.
She touched her own lips and sighed. The god had heard her singing to the Sphardiclarkin. He had caught her in his fire tunnel because she sang, and singing was much more like speaking than laughing. And now she was dead.
She sniffed the air again and opened her eyes.
Gray. Clouds were gray. She was in the clouds. That made sense.
She sat up. Her body hurt. Her feet tingled; the hair was gone from her legs. She nodded knowingly. You must give up something to go to heaven. She had given up her hair.
Still forms snorted in the grayness.
Other dead animals? She hadn't thought about that. She didn't like dead things. They smelled.
Maybe she would smell, too.
She sniffed again. A change in the wind. It made her head swim. She lay back down and succumbed to the anesthetic.
Uri Pansler typed into the computer:
Day five. We've played subliminal linguistic tapes while the colonists sleep. We sit with them every chance we can.
The colonists are not adapting well to their new environment. Most have refused to eat. Four Fingers has mated repeatedly with Climber; the poor man is exhausted. Puffy nurses constantly. Some of the older colonists seem catatonic.
This move on board has been much more traumatic than we anticipated.
Dr. Arton suggests we keep them sedated until we bridge the communication gap between us, but our time is limited. In five and a half months, we must arrive with repatriated Katargans, not sedated aborigines.
As Dr. Arton had surmised, the female Hunter Rogue has adapted better than the others. However, she paces the confines of the room constantly. She's discovered the cameras and broken two of them. Dr. Arton cited incidents of similar previous behavior.
We must begin with attempts at verbal communication.
Dr. Towers and I have decided to use basic behavior modification using food.
End of report.
Pansler held up a shiny green disk. He licked it and laughed. He put it in his mouth, took it out and laughed, put it in again and chewed slowly.
Towers picked up a yellow disk. She repeated Uri's procedure, but as she laughed, she said the word "food" softly, as part of the laugh.
Startled, the colonists paid closer attention.
Pansler's laughed "food" was more pronounced.
Uri and Vivian looked at each other.
Hunter stopped pacing.
Vivian picked around the pile of colored dehydrated disks of food. She picked an orange one up, laughed the word "food" and placed it between Pansler's lips. He laughed "food."
A deep-throated growl preceded Bigfeet. The huge female leaped onto the pile of food disks, glaring at the pair. She flung chips over each shoulder, growling. The pair could not seem to move.
Then Hunter sprang between the doctors and the fierce leader of the troop. She had her back to the doctors, protecting them.
The troop were all on their feet, slapping their chests and thighs, arhythmically.
Hunter slowly squatted on the pile of colors. Her eyes never left Bigfeet's face. Sweat sparkled on her top lip. She took a deep breath and released her bladder.
Hot yellow urine splashed onto the pile of food. The colonists and doctors gasped in surprise.
Bigfeet looked around Hunter at the doctors and curled her lip. She turned back to her mate and sat down, facing ninety degrees away from them. The slapping became clapping as the room rang with laughter.
Hunter turned and leaned towards the astonished scientists. "Food," she said in a whispered laugh.
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.