Simple words echoed up to Hunter as she squatted in an air vent. She was exploring new territory. The cave she looked down into was full of 'chairs' and 'tables'. It was a large, dimly lit room. Three cave people sat at one table in the middle.
Garbled words answered the understandable words.
Hunter sniffed the air, not smelling death. She listened carefully to the cave dwellers. They were laughing and putting their hands over their faces. They punched each other playfully and talked about 'bad smell'.
Again, Hunter sniffed and smelled nothing different.
She climbed out of the vent and cautiously approached the three, sniffing, trying to discover what caused their reaction.
They saw her and stopped laughing. She stood still. Maybe one was leader and wanted her submission. She watched their faces for signs of their rank.
They whispered to each other. One reassured the others. It smiled at her and spoke softly.
Hunter smiled back. Encouraged by their calmness, Hunter moved closer, running her
hand over the smooth 'tabletop'. She said these words to herself. Gods spoke
to her in the dark, telling her the names of things. In light, she touched the items she'd learned and said the words mentally.
One day, she would say the words out loud.
The one smiling pointed to its chest. "Mark." It pointed to her. "Hunterock. Hun-ter-og."
Did it sign 'same'? Hunter came closer, about a table away. She recognized the sound of her name. Mark nodded and repeated its signals.
"Mark. Hunter Rogue."
Hunter slapped her breast. It sounded muffled against the material of the green outfit she still wore.
"Yr Hunter Rogue." The cave dweller tapped its chest and smiled. "Im Mark."
Hunter, Mark -- same! Hunter was surprised. She smiled and leaped onto the chair next to her new friend.
"Dear God!" The cave people at the table covered their faces and made strange noises. They puffed out their cheeks.
Hunter was scared. She jumped away from them. Mark was making sounds of anger.
Hunter signed 'same', but as she bent to slap Mark's chest, it jerked away from her.
Hunter slowly crept back up to her air vent.
She returned to her troop empty-handed and angry.
First New was there. Hunter bowed to Bigfeet and then walked over and sat down next to her friend.
First New touched her hair and hummed, "Hunter?" Hunter grabbed First New's hand and held it to her nose. She sniffed.
First New had no scent.
Hunter sniffed up First New's arm to her armpit and neck. Her hair smelled like trees in summer. Nothing else about First New smelled. Hunter pried her mouth open and smelled. Even her breath was nice.
"Same," Hunter signed. "Same," she repeated, hitting hard.
"Same," Vivian signed gently.
Hunter curled her lips and puffed her cheeks. She took First New's hand and pressed it against her nose. Then she pressed her own hand against First New's nose.
Vivian gagged, like the people in the table-chair cave.
Hunter stood up and walked away, deeply hurt.
Vivian jumped up, then hesitated. She clapped her hands and took a deep breath. Slowly, she took off her outfit.
The troop watched in habitual silence.
Her skin was dark, hairless. She walked to the flower and sat on it. The water swooshed. She stood up and walked into a niche in the wall. She touched the wall. Rain fell only on her.
She smiled and laughed. She exaggerated the motions of taking a shower.
Hunter already had her suit off. She began pressing the walls, asking the cave to give her rain, too.
First New took her hand and let her stand under the rain. Warm rain! Like summer. First New rubbed something on her skin that smelled like trees. The dark layers of dirt smeared and ran down her legs. The skin underneath was pale and freckled. It was the most wonderful feeling Hunter ever remembered.
The tree smell overwhelmed her own scent. Her skin changed colors from rusty brown to shell pink. The itches in her hair stopped. Hunter let First New bathe her and didn't care that the whole troop was watching.
Mark would not hold its nose now.
Plenty of times, Hunter's scent had saved her life. Most carnivores eat good-smelling animals, not strong musky animals like her. But that time was gone.
It was time to live like these cave dwellers.
While the other females showered, Vivian brought combs and brushes in and showed Hunter how to use them. Hunter recognized the small branch. Now she would learn to use it right.
Vivian's hair was short, but the colonists were tenderly impatient with their long hair. Vivian left the cave and returned with something covered. She went to Hunter first.
"Same," Hunter assured her happily.
First New lifted Hunter's hair, then ran her fingers through her own short curls. "Same?"
"Same." Hunter would learn whatever First New wanted to teach her. She sat patiently as First New put a cold thing to her hair. Her hair fell into her lap.
Bigfeet was too busy enjoying her shower to notice.
Hunter's rust-colored locks fell in a matted heap onto her lap. She caught Darkarm's eyes again. He smiled admiringly, aware that Bigfeet could not see him.
Then Vivian picked up the fallen hair, covered the scissors, and left the room. Dr. Arton begged for Hunter's first hair clippings. They are still his favorite possession.
Vivian ordered new outfits for every female. The five males still refused to dress or wash.
Dr. Rivers whispered, "Can you teach me how to bathe tonight?" for which he received a bruise.
A few other females wanted their hair cut. But for the most, the shower was quite enough adaptation at one time.
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.