Saturday, June 12, 2010

Inhuman | Chapter 6: Home Safe [old edition]

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NOTE: This is an old version of Inhuman, which is currently undergoing extensive revisions that include a stylistic overhaul and several chapters’ worth of new content. Stay tuned for the final version, due out whenever I finally slay the procrastination demon that’s taken up residence in my brain. (The bastard.) Meanwhile, please note that the following may not be representative of my current writing skills and is kept here primarily for archival purposes.

Sean becomes a true member of the anthro tribe and writes about experiences and thoughts.


— CHAPTER SIX —

Home Safe

The sky resembled an impressionist painting, streaked with vibrant dashes of orange and gold by the time Sean and Aki regained the village, where they were at once accosted by the usual drove of fascinated villagers. They spent the remainder of their time until supper exploring more of the place, occasionally striking up conversations with people whose attitude towards Sean was consistent in its awe. One thing the anthros seemed keen on commenting on was how “ordinary” Sean appeared with his furless and unmarked skin, stubby nails, and absence of a snout or a tail. Sean wasn’t really sure whether to grin or to blush as they conversed about his distinct appearance in that way, so he merely nodded or uttered the random word of agreement to keep their questions at bay as best he could. All this time, Aki stood right next to him, keeping an eye on him and those who approached him and occasionally batting some of their more insistent questions away, something Sean felt fairly thankful for. He didn’t feel like dealing with these anthros on his own.

They also spent time playing around with cubs, who didn’t seem as awestruck towards Sean as they were simply eager to chase him around, run from him in turn, and wrestle as they tried to pull him to the ground. It all had Sean laughing with mirth; children were one thing he’d never had a problem with, even back on New Corinthea, and these anthro cubs had an extra layer of energy and cuteness that just made him want to play with them all the more. Others looked on, laughing and cheering; Aki, at the sidelines with her back against a cabin wall, watched them with a large smile on her muzzle. Even as he fooled around, Sean could detect the distinct smell of food being prepared in the air, which only made the nearly continuous grumbling from his stomach that much worse. Which only made the cubs laugh and tackle him some more.

Eventually, when Sean had become thoroughly exhausted and was starting to wonder if suppertime would ever arrive, it did. All around, people started walking towards the center of the village as though they’d all received a signal; a couple of mothers called the ever-excitable young ones to their sides as they flocked towards the town square. Sean noticed how the aromas of victuals had reached their peak intensity and he literally salivated, his stomach becoming downright painful by then. Looking at Aki, she smiled and nodded in confirmation to his unspoken thoughts, walking to his side as they followed suit with the others.

‘You’re going to love this,’ she said as they arrived at the crowded village center. Sean nodded absently, any thoughts of answering forgotten as he stared around and feeling at a loss for words.

The relatively large space was filled with villagers, and never before had Sean gotten such a clear idea of just how very diverse the anthro population truly was. It was clear that everyone in the village was assembling here, people flooding in from the surrounding streets and emerging from doorways into the open area, blinking in the blood-red glare from the low hanging sun. At the center of the place, a large bonfire was already burning, its flames reaching well over their heads into the air and flowing merrily with the promise of cooked foods to come. There was a current flowing through the populace, a palpable mixture of calmness and excitement, telling of something they did quite often yet nonetheless eagerly looked forward to. He caught several little glints; he realized that many people, perhaps two thirds, were now wearing their mating necklaces, the blue and green gemstones at their necks flashing brilliantly in the firelight. These jewels gave the crowd the appearance of some sort of VIP assembly, in stark contrast to their diminutive clothing.

Looking around, one thing Sean failed to see was any sort of a platform or high table. Everyone was milling around at their leisure, crowding around the fire at the center of the town square. This raised a question in Sean that he was surprised he hadn’t asked before.

‘Aki? Doesn’t the village have any kind of leader or chief or something?’

‘No, course not,’ said Aki as though the idea were a strange one. ‘There’s no-one here who has any more say over what goes on around the place than anyone else. Why, why would there be?’

‘Well, I dunno,’ said Sean, bemused. ‘With this number of people, you’d think there was some sort of … of leadership or something, a – a group who told the rest what to do, what’s right and what’s wrong and all that.’

‘There’s no need for that,’ Aki said, her eyebrows raised. ‘We all know what we have to do for the village, for the greater good. There’s no-one to boss anyone else around. I dunno about you humans, but the only thing we have is the council of elders. It’s the oldest and wisest villagers, they form a sort of a – well, a council, and they’re the ones people go to for advice and suggestions and that sort of stuff, how to deal with problems and so on.’

Sean nodded, mulling Aki’s words over. The idea of a people, a village, without a head or leadership felt quite foreign to him, and he inwardly wondered how it could work well for any long stretch of time. His experience on New Corinthea had taught him that people would do whatever they could to avoid the rules … But then, he reminded himself, he was living with the anthros now, a people that so far had shown itself to be endlessly more honest and moral than anything he’d ever known.

His reflections were soon cut short, though. As he surveyed the scene, he noticed more and more heads turning his way, their conversations suddenly infused with an undercurrent of excited muttering. He once again felt himself flush and looked uncertainly at Aki, who just smiled at him in a “you’d-better-just-get-used-to-it” sort of way. Sean sighed resignedly before giving an amused smile as anthros once again crowded around him, each trying to speak to him before the last. As before, most didn’t so much ask him questions as they merely stared him over and commented on his appearance. A few minutes of this while Sean grew progressively more beleaguered, and then Aki was stepping in once again, shooing them all away. Sean flashed her a grateful grin, which she returned with a lighthearted chuckle as she grabbed his hand and led him through the crowd as they were arriving and settling in for mealtime.

They drew nearer to the center of the area where the large bonfire burned gaily; it was so large that Sean could already feel its heat radiating through the slowly cooling air as they approached. All around them, the villagers were taking a seat on the ground, chatting merrily amongst themselves. Aki indicated at Sean to do the same once they’d reached the front lines of the crowd around the fire, settling down and carefully folding her loincloth under her, her puffy tail curled around into her lap with her arms resting over it. Sean joined her side, still taking in his unusual surroundings.

‘So, when do we eat? Actually … where’s the food?’ Sean asked, edged on by the ever-increasing ache in his belly, which was only exacerbated by the omnipresent smells of food in the air. Aki, however, just chuckled.

‘We’ll eat soon, Sean, don’t worry,’ she said with a smile, casually placing a hand on his thigh in a reassuring manner. ‘The food’s not out yet. When everyone’s here and they’ve all settled down, then they’ll bring in the food.’

‘Well, how long?’

‘Any minute!’

Sean sat quietly, glancing around and catching more people than he could count staring at him; some of them hastily looked away when they noticed Sean had caught them, which prompted resigned amusement in him. He really was gonna have to get used to this.

His fun slowly turned into the beginnings of impatience, though, as more and more time went by without anything happening or any food appearing. He looked around; the place was packed full of villagers, many of whom appeared to be just as famished as Sean himself was. It looked like everyone was there and they were all waiting patiently. Sean wasn’t customarily one to be too impatient about anything, but he really was quite keen on chewing on something soon.

‘What’s taking so –?’ he began to ask to Aki before being cut off by a loud voice that suddenly rang out over the crowd.

‘People of the tribe! Welcome to you all!’

Sean looked around. The voice came from his left, where a goat had taken stand amidst the front lines of the villagers. Everything from the tone of his voice to the way he looked upon them all, his grizzled horned head held high and his greyish brown coat flickering with orange in the firelight, indicated that this was obviously someone who held a certain position of respect in the village. His demeanor, whilst laid back as with the rest of the villagers, commanded silence as all attention turned towards him.

The goat paused for a few moments, waiting for the last few voices to die down. Aki took this moment to whisper hurriedly to Sean:

‘That’s Wise Kovida; he’s one of the elders.’

Satisfied that silence had fallen upon the assembled villagers (Sean thought he saw the old goat’s yellow eyes flicker his way, though it might’ve been a glint from the firelight), Wise Kovida allowed a calm smile onto his muzzle.

‘This evening, we gather to celebrate a momentous occasion. I know you must all be famished, but I must ask you to wait just a few more moments for this wonderful meal to come. For tonight, we celebrate a new era for us all. Tonight is when myth has become truth, where the ancient past has become the present, and where the true origins of our people and our world have finally come to light. Tonight, we celebrate the joining of two peoples, two worlds: the anthros, and the humans.’

He lowered his gaze onto Sean and smiled widely; Sean felt himself flush slightly as every head followed Kovida’s stare to gaze at him.

‘People of the tribe, I ask you now to join me in welcoming our friend, Sean the human, into our village. Let him be at home here among us, as our brother and son.’

As soon as he finished speaking, a deafening cheer arose as everyone started hailing Sean’s acceptance into the tribe. Sean just sat there, blushing harder than ever, yet smiling widely as villagers entered a chant of “Sean the Human! Sean the Human! Sean the Human!”. Aki cheered as hard as the rest, yelling Sean’s name with the others and squeezing his forearm happily.

Eventually the acclaim died down and the chanting ended, allowing Kovida to continue speaking.

‘Sean,’ he said, staring at Sean, who felt himself shrink a little under the old goat’s gaze, feeling quite subordinate for the first time in his life. He was used to doing as he was told by his commanding officers, but somehow, this old goat commanded much more respect from him than his superiors on New Corinthea ever did. He inwardly mused that this was probably just the result of him being so new and inexperienced amongst them.

‘I have heard that you have a great knowledge of science and technology, and that you are very capable with your hands and your mind. You will bring much to this village. However, for this to be possible, you still have much to learn about our ways. For this, I am placing you in the care of your friend, Aki Elani. She will be your teacher. May you listen to her well.’

Sean nodded and faced Aki, who looked taken aback yet excited at the announcement.

‘Thank you,’ Sean and Aki both said to Kovida at the same time; they stopped themselves, both blushing and breaking down into a barely restrained laugh as the villagers snickered along with them. As they calmed down, Kovida clapped his hands, staring around brightly.

‘And now, I have taken up more than enough time from you all. Let the evening begin!’

He sat back down as a general acclamation arose from the more than one hundred villagers, which Sean knew signified that suppertime was commencing at last.

‘See? There!’ Aki said, nudging Sean and pointing across the assembly, where a large number of wheelbarrows laden with foods of all sorts were suddenly being hauled into the town square, pulled by anthro horses and bovines, excited villagers scattering before them to let them pass. The tantalizing caravan headed towards the bonfire, where their carriers deposited the carts onto the ground before joining the rest of the famished villagers as they rose up as a tidal wave, rushing around the food.

Already at the front line, Sean quickly found himself watering at the mouth quite shamelessly at the sight of the amassed victuals before him. It was a veritable tribal feast with just about every imaginable foodstuff: seasoned raw meats ranging from beef and chicken to what he imagined was venison and even hare; every sort of vegetable and greenery he could think of, including broccoli, lettuce, potatoes, carrots and peas, along with large dishes of what appeared to be regular leaves and grass; there were large baskets and bowls piled high with multicolored fruits: apples, kiwis, pomegranates and a variety of berries. To the side of it all, several large barrels brimmed with water so clear that even in the fading light he could see through it as though it were glass. There was something for everyone, regardless of species and differences in taste.

To answer his unasked question, he watched as anthros came up to the food, then grabbed a goatskin membrane from a large pile on the ground and used it as a makeshift bag to carry their food from the carts of victuals to their chosen sitting spot. They also used the skins as water-bags, carrying their drinks along with their food. He watched as a teenage goat-boy came to his side at the lettuce cart before which Sean stood, reached in and grabbed a handful of luscious leaves, dumped the lot into his own skin and then shuffled off to join his parents amongst the crowd, shooting a brief glance and smile at Sean.

‘This look good enough for you?’ came an amused voice from behind him; Aki shuffled to his side, grinning brightly at what he supposed must’ve been a very delighted expression on his face. Without waiting for a reply (maybe she knew it wouldn’t come in Sean’s famished and longing state), she picked a skin and quickly laded it with random slabs of meat, along with an apple. She grinned at him as though egging him on before sitting back down in their spot just a few feet away. Her food laid out in her lap, she took a lusty bite out of the apple, staring at him teasingly the whole time as she chewed and gulped mischievously, almost theatrically.

Sean snapped back to his senses, blushing somewhat, and turned back to the food. He chose a skin of his own (a zebra had reached for the same skin but let him have it, taking another one with a timid smile) and barely examined the food at his disposal before simply piling as much as he could into the bag, creating an indiscriminate mix that would be sure to appeal to anyone, regardless of tastes. This was nothing like on New Corinthea, where meals were often rationed due to shortages and crop failures and where he would often spend days or even weeks waiting for a decent meal. Here, he had all the food he could dream of, and he intended to stuff himself as fully as he possibly could.

He put several slabs of meat in lastly, and then turned towards the bonfire, which was crackling merrily and casting dancing shadows throughout the anthros milling about. Again, observation answered his question before he asked it as he saw a number of anthros holding their meat out into the flames with long, slender wrought metal skewers. He picked one from a pile on the ground and speared his meat onto it as a large makeshift brochette, then stuck the meat out into the flames. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, overcome by the sweet scents and bathing in the warmth of the blaze, contrasting quite comfortably against the coolness of the late evening. The sun had nearly died by then, casting its last feeble ruby-colored rays across the heavens. Now, the bonfire itself was the town square’s main source of illumination, other than the myriads of little torches Sean noticed had suddenly appeared all over the place, planted into the ground and giving the place the strange appearance of a ritual ground.

‘Sean? Sean! Sean, your meat!’

Sean jumped slightly as Aki’s voice snapped him out of his reverie; he quickly pulled his meat out of the flames and was relieved to see it hadn’t overcooked it too badly. Satisfied, he slid the slightly smoking steaks off his skewer and into his skin bag and dropped the brochette on the ground with the rest as he headed over to Aki and sat cross-legged at her side. He laid his food out on his lap as she did, trying to keep as level and still as possible as not to topple the impressive pile of tastiness he’d amassed. Aki stared, eyes wide.

‘You’re gonna eat all that?’ she said incredulously. ‘You’ve got enough for two or three people in there!’

‘Are you kidding? This is just my first portion!’ Sean said, suddenly feeling uncharacteristically gluttony. He was nearly giddy at the thought of finally satiating his starving gully, and tore into the topmost slab of beef without a thought. It was delicious, the seasoning providing just the right tang along with the smoky flavor. Aki just watched with her jaw comically agape as he finished his first steak, pausing only for a second to spit out the bone and some strips of fat, before stuffing half the venison in his watering mouth. He couldn’t stop smiling as he devoured the wonderful meat, his taste buds dancing the conga.

‘Whoa!’ came several astonished voices around him; he looked around, juices dribbling down his chin unchecked, and noticed the surrounding villagers staring at him with shock on their faces.

‘What?’ he spluttered, his mouth full; he accidentally spat some food out onto the ground, to the snickering of those around him.

‘We’ve just never seen anyone eat that much, or that fast,’ said Aki, looking as stunned as the rest. ‘What the hell, do you have two stomachs in there?’

‘Ahm stawfing!’ said Sean in mock defensive tones, his mouth packed full. He barely took the time to finish before diving into his fruit, ripping a kiwi in half and sucking its sweet innards out like a child, much to everyone’s amusement.

‘He’s gonna explode! Human guts everywhere!’ he heard a female say nearby, eliciting renewed laughter. He just kept eating, trying to stop himself from laughing. The idea of spitting half his food out from laughing wasn’t a pleasant one.

The evening slowly progressed in much the same fashion: Sean stuffing himself and the villagers watching him in mingled awe and bemusement. They all ate much slower, and much less, than he did, apparently sated after only a few food items despite the long day of chores and tasks they’d all shared. At one point, Nessi passed by and encouraged Sean to try a slab of raw beef, “just once”. Sean hesitated but eventually bit into it, before spitting it back out in disgust. No, really, this was one thing he couldn’t stomach. Nessi, Aki and the others just laughed, again.

‘How can you eat so much? Do all humans eat that much?’ Aki asked about an hour later, when most had finished eating and had fallen back into aimless discussion with each other. Sean still had some fruits and vegetables left, and had no intention of leaving them behind.

‘When they’re really hungry, sure,’ Sean said, popping a few grapes into his mouth. ‘It’s you anthros who don’t seem to eat all that much, really.’

‘I don’t see it that way,’ Aki said, shrugging. ‘Maybe it’s just some physiological difference. I noticed you, uh – what’s that expression you use? – “use the facilities” a lot more than anyone else –’ Sean nearly choked on a grape ‘– so I’m guessing your metabolism is just less efficient than ours, than anthros’.’

‘Yeah … maybe,’ said Sean, still slightly red in the face.

The rest of the evening was quite relaxed. Sean finally finished his food after second helpings, deciding it was best not to tempt the fates with any more if he planned to sleep that night, and instead started conversing with the anthros. Many of them introduced themselves to him, presenting their families and friends, and all the while deluging Sean with questions about himself. Sean felt like he was getting the hang of dealing with such onslaughts of questions, smiling and joking with them as he repeated the narrative of his dramatic arrival to Earth in his escape pod again and again. He neglected to mention the part with the exploding Chartraine, though, and if Aki noticed, she didn’t comment. Rather, she just sat back, watching Sean be the center of attention with a small smile on her face, her eyes twinkling, not only in the firelight, but also with something that might have been mingled pride and affection.

Sean was actually enjoying himself so much that he barely noticed the passage of time, until he realized it was over two hours later (or so it felt). By then, most of the villagers had left, leaving the village square relatively empty, and the bonfire had shrunk to a modest size. Some villagers stayed behind to clean up the few skins or scraps of food that had been strewn across the ground and to lug the empty food carts away. Sean felt thankful that the day was coming to an end; he was feeling considerably less energetic than before, despite (or perhaps, due to) the incredible amount of food he’d enjoyed, and merely flopped onto his back in the cool grass, staring at the heavens above.

The stars were shining brightly, twinkling at him almost playfully. A few wispy clouds were scattered here and there, shining silver in the moonlight, the whole forming a magnificent tapestry that stretched over them all. He couldn’t help but feel remarkably insignificant in the face of such vastness. He wondered if, somewhere, one of those tiny little white dots was Sol or Icarus, the twin suns of New Corinthea. He wondered if anyone knew he was gone, and if anyone missed him. He doubted it; he had never made many friends, and the few he had made had always eventually either died in battle or been reassigned elsewhere. He had left no-one and nothing behind; he truly had no connection with his world, his original home, other than memories that were becoming more and more distant as time passed.

That was his original home. He had a new home, now. A better one. A happy one.

‘Sean? Are you okay?’

Sean shook his head, clearing the thoughts away. Aki was looking down at him from where she sat at his side, a concerned expression upon her beautiful face. Sean noticed his eyes felt wet; he blinked several times to clear them up, pulling in a sniff and managing to pass it off as nothing conspicuous.

‘Yeah,’ he said, his voice quiet but confident. ‘Yeah … I am.’

Aki gave a small smile, placing a hand behind his shoulder and helping him sit upright as they both slowly got to their feet. Looking around, he noticed they were nearly alone now as only a few villagers were left in the town square, extinguishing the torches, tending to the embers of the bonfire, or lying around, apparently fallen asleep in the grass as Sean nearly had.

‘Time to go to bed,’ she said softly, taking his hand. He gave a soft, tired smile of his own as they ambled down streets and pathways feebly illuminated by the moonlight, which gave the village a silver, hauntingly beautiful quality. Soon, they found themselves at the entrance of an earthly hut that was smaller than were the others, yet that was no less welcoming. Aki led him beyond the entrance curtain and inside her home. Sean looked around, taking in Aki’s home – his new home – for the first time. The simple layout and rustic feel of the three cots and the few tables and chairs that made up the décor felt comfortable already, the whole illuminated by a few candles mounted along the walls.

‘Hey, Mom,’ said Aki, looking towards the older vixen at the back of the hut, hunched over a table and surrounded by two piles of clothes and stitching yarn. The vixen jerked awake, muttering in sleepy confusion as she turned to face her daughter and Sean.

‘About time you got home,’ she said, her voice stern yet forgiving. ‘I was starting to wonder if you hadn’t gotten lost.’

‘That would be hard,’ said Aki with a small grin. Kira’s soft purple eyes swiveled to face Sean, and for a moment she stood in silence, staring him over and making Sean feel quite self-conscious.

‘So, you’re Sean,’ she said, more as a statement than a question. Sean could sense her hesitation and misgivings, and tried to give the best impression he could.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ he said, briefly wondering if the old title was known to anthros. She didn’t react negatively, so he supposed he hadn’t made a misstep. Yet.

She stared at him for a few more moments, as though evaluating them, and then turned to her daughter again.

‘Aki, please head down to the river and go clean yourself, now. You’ve got drippings all over yourself,’ she said, indicating the small splotches and rivulets that stained her fur. Aki nodded and turned on her heel, throwing Sean one last quick glance before disappearing.

Kira still stood there, looking both haughty and uncertain, eyeing Sean and making him feel rather uncomfortable. She slowly walked forwards, her amethyst eyes fixed into his, a stern expression on her older face. She looked like she wanted to tell him something yet didn’t know quite how to express herself.

‘Before you stay here,’ she said, slowly and softly, ‘I need to know one thing. I know Aki has been spending a lot of time with you, in the infirmary, and today. I see the way you two look at each other. What I’m saying is …’

She paused, looking obviously uncomfortable. Cottoning on, Sean breathed a sigh of relief and assuaged her mind.

‘We’re just friends,’ he said in what he hoped was an appeasing tone. ‘Really, that’s all. I like her, but … only as a friend. You don’t have to worry about anything else.’

‘And her?’ Kira asked, still looking a little troubled.

‘Uh … I guess she feels the same way,’ said Sean, trying to shrug casually. ‘I didn’t ask.’

Kira still stared him in the eyes, but Sean could tell that her rigid composure was slackening somewhat as her nerves were soothed by his words.

‘My daughter is all I have,’ she said quietly. ‘Ever since I lost my mate and … Well, I can’t let anything happen to her.’

‘I would never hurt her,’ Sean assured. ‘I’d rather die than hurt her.’ Which was certainly true.

Kira kept looking at him, yet though she didn’t smile, she certainly felt much more relaxed from then on. She nodded at Sean before turning away towards her worktable. Sean briefly flashed back to Aki telling him about her mother being a clothesmaid, one who makes and repairs the villagers’ loincloths and robes.

‘So,’ Kira said as she busied herself with stacking the clothes and placing the piles on the ground. ‘You really want to stay here? Be a part of this village?’

‘Yes, I do,’ said Sean with a small smile. ‘I mean – it’s not like I can leave, either, but … I love this place.’

Kira glanced at him, then gave him her first little smile. It was a refreshing sight, seeing her ordinarily stern and cautious face light up for a moment.

They talked for a few more minutes until Aki returned, her fur slick and glossy. She smiled as she saw Sean conversing with her mother, obviously reassured that they were getting along.

‘Making small talk? Checking to make sure he’s not the enemy?’ she joked placidly, walking in and heading over to her cot and sitting on the edge. Kira gave her a glance: “oh, hush up”.

‘Just get ready for bed, you,’ she said flatly as she headed across the hut to her own cot, leaving the cot next to Aki’s as Sean’s. He headed over, checking it out; it appeared fairly comfortable, with the same sort of straw mattress as in the infirmary. Sean noticed that it had no sheets, though, and the chill permeating through the cabin would make for quite an uncomfortable night without.

‘Uh … Aren’t there any blan … kets …?’ he started to ask as he turned around, before the words caught in his throat at what he saw.

The two vixens were stripping down, unraveling their loincloths and breastcloths and depositing them on their bedside tables. Before Sean knew it, he suddenly found himself in the company of two fully nude vixens, both of which were looking at him expectantly, looking completely at ease. His mind desperately screamed at him to turn away, yet he found himself strangely unable to look at anything else, staring helplessly as though magnetically attracted to their bared furred bodies.

‘It’s rude to stare, you know,’ said Aki in a mock scolding tone, placing her hand on her hip and striking a pose that only made Sean all the more uncomfortable. He had always seen how pretty she was, but now that she was unclothed, it was a different story. His first thoughts, other than those of shock, were of how she was truly devastatingly beautiful. The shapes and curves of a nubile goddess; as though she’d come straight out of his dreams. He flushed furiously and tried to look away, staring at anything other than the bared vixens before him.

‘Wha— what’re you doing?’ he asked lamely in a slightly choked voice, his mind unable to formulate anything more sophisticated at the moment. Aki just broke out laughing and he noticed that even Kira was smiling in amusement. If possible, this made him feel even more awkward.

‘We always sleep naked,’ she told Sean matter-of-factly, still smiling. ‘All anthros do. We don’t need clothes, anyway, with our fur and scales … Though, I guess that’s different for you humans, anyway,’ she added after a moment’s reflection.

Without a word, she climbed onto her cot, bending over in just the righ— wrong ways, in Sean’s opinion, and lied down on her side facing him, her arm acting as a headrest in the absence of a pillow.

‘There’s a blanket by my table if it’s too cold for you,’ Kira said, still with a small grin on her face, as she walked around and blew out the candles, gradually plunging the cabin into near-total darkness. Only the feeble moonlight filtering in through the sides of the curtains that covered the entryway and the windows allowed Sean to see what he was doing. He grabbed the thick wooly cover and, returning to his cot, laid it over himself as he lay down on his straw mattress, which crinkled not-too-unpleasantly underneath him. He wriggled around for a few moments, getting himself suitably comfortable, before shooting a glance at Aki, lying on her cot just a few feet to his side. She was making no effort to hide her body; if anything, Sean thought she had a rather mischievous look on her face as she smiled at him. He was very happy to have a thick blanket to hide under, and not just for the cold.

‘Oh, Sean, don’t bother trying to hide anything, I know what’s going on under there,’ Aki taunted, before laughing again as Sean cringed and blushed harder than ever. He felt like he was going to either faint or explode if this kept up for longer.

Aki sighed, still smiling tiredly as she rolled over onto her back, her bushy tail laying over her nethers, rather to Sean’s relief.

‘Good night, Sean,’ she said, giving him one last warm glance before turning away and closing her eyes. ‘Good night, Mom.’

‘You too, dear,’ came Kira’s voice from the other side of the hut. ‘And you too, Sean.’

‘Uh … you too,’ said Sean, slightly awkwardly. He’d never bidden anyone good night before.

Before long, the sounds of slow and deep breathing filled the hut, telling Sean that the two had fallen asleep in less than five minutes. Probably another animalistic attribute, he thought idly, his mind on the beautiful foxgirl now sleeping peacefully a few feet away. His mind started swimming with random thoughts and ideas, like Kira’s words … “I see the way you two look at each other” … What did she mean …?

He rolled over in his half-conscious state, blinking as a sudden sliver of silver cut across his face; a curtained window above his bed had an opening just wide enough for him to see a patch of the deep black sky above. He kept staring, gradually losing himself to his thoughts as the many sights, sounds and feelings of the day, and the past two weeks, filled his mind and eventually carried him off to sleep.

*

Early fall, 2519 – late evening

I’m not entirely sure how long it’s been since my arrival here on Earth. I would guess that it’s been at least a couple of months, though I have no way to know what date it is now. I would place us at somewhere around September (at least if the twelve months system on New Corinthea is anything to judge by).

I still have much to get used to with living with the anthros, though I don’t feel as out-of-place as I used to. Granted, I still stick out like a sore thumb, which many times leads to my embarrassment when I do or say something that’s seen as very out-of-place, but I don’t suppose I have any real reason to complain. This is the strangest place I’ve ever been, and yet this is the happiest I’ve ever been. This feeling of contentment, of peace, is almost as alien to me as is the rest of this place, but it touches me as a blessing and I’m slowly getting used to it.

I cannot stop marveling at the way of life in this village. These are a remarkably simple people, but in all the right ways. They don’t preoccupy themselves with dates or deadlines; their only clocks are the rise and fall of the sun, and the changing seasons. They seem to be as timeless as the land around them, as though they’d always been here and always will be. It’s actually a comforting thought, that; like I’ve finally found some stability.

Despite my reservations, the villagers have already accepted me as one of their own. I’m relieved that I can finally walk around without being accosted by excitable anthros wherever I go. I have been fully integrated into the village life since my official induction of sorts, now about three weeks ago. They expect me to help out around the village with the communal chores and daily tasks as anyone else does. It’s strange; I used to loathe menial tasks, yet now, I enjoy all this work. Going around helping people build their homes or repair fences or weed gardens feels, strangely enough, far more gratifying than anything I’ve ever done before. It’s also amusing to note how easy these people are to impress; just a few tricks on tool-making or proper construction methods and they regard me as a sort of handyman legend. I suppose I can’t resist showing off, if only to see them smile and laugh. Hey, makes me smile, too.

I’m slowly starting to get the hang of their culture and way of life. They have so many customs and traditions that are alien to me, I still feel quite out-of-place at times, when they stare at me in incredulity when I do something I shouldn’t do (or fail to do something I should). One example would be with their greetings; while it seems customary for strangers or casual acquaintances to simply smile politely at each other, closer friends or relatives salute each other by nuzzling or even hugging, something quite foreign to a loner like me. But, I try to learn.

One of the strangest things about these people, other than their distinctly animalistic traits at times (wolves howl, elk butt heads for competition (though mostly for play), felines purr, and the likes), is how they possess such a cavalier view on modesty. It turns out, they only wear clothes – which are limited to minimal garments – out of tradition and habit; they have absolutely nothing against nudity and seeing each other naked. More than once, I’ve stumbled across villagers bathing in the river, naked, and what’s worst of all is how they view my ensuing embarrassment as something to laugh at. I’ve even come across a wolf couple making love in the woods, a few days ago; they just looked at me and laughed and joked about it, completely uncaring about their appearance. And, of course, all this is without mentioning how these people sleep nude in plain view of each other (in their individual homes, that is). I still haven’t decided on whether I feel like laughing or cringing at these notions, though I suppose I’ll have little choice but to stick them in the (already lengthy) pile of strange things I just need to get used to. Though, I hope they don’t expect me to sleep naked, myself. That, I simply refuse to do, much to Aki’s amusement.

Speaking of Aki … That foxgirl may just be the best part of this whole story. We are very much best of friends now, and I think I’m finally starting to loosen up around her, especially when I realize that she can make the sorts of jokes and comments that even I sometimes blush at. She’s quite the feisty one. I still can’t get over just how beautiful she is; not that I ever tell her this, of course. Not only that, but she’s also highly intelligent, endlessly curious, and very compassionate, even by anthro standards (they are a people of the earth and are endlessly devoted to each other and the world around them). I’ve only known her for a little while, comparatively, but I can tell she is developing into a very fine and strong young female. (I call her that because terms like “man” and “woman” are completely stranger to the anthros, judging by the perplexed looks that I received when I used to use them.)

She spends most of her days trying to teach me about the anthros, their history, their way of life, and to be honest, I am just as interested in listening to her talk about her people as she is in hearing all about humans and my life, my world. She is especially interested in science and technology; something tells me she would’ve made a great scientist or researcher or something. We spend a lot of time in the crashed pod (which we’ve cleaned up as best we could, peeling all that crust of burn off bit by bit and cleaning out the debris from inside). She loves to tinker with the controls and imagine herself flying the thing as though it were a fighter, narrowly escaping enemy fire and all that. I actually have fun “schooling” her in how everything works and how to pilot the thing, something she seems to greatly enjoy. She seems pretty good at it, too, even though we aren’t really at a risk of flying out of the river anytime soon.

She still claims to hear that strange, high-pitched sound, though, even though I can’t hear anything, myself. I’m pretty sure it’s just the wind whistling through the hatchway or something; after all, nothing works, and anything that had somehow managed to survive the EM storm would certainly have died out by now after months and the exposure to the elements. It’s actually a little sad or discomforting to think that the pod is the only thing I have left of my home, my world itself; it is a reminder of where I come from, and what I went through to arrive here.

To my surprise, it turns out the laser rifles stored with the rest of the safety equipment in the pod’s storage still function. The electronic scopes are dead, but the rifles themselves, which operate through mechanics and concentrated energy, work just fine. Aki was interested in how they work, so now we spend a lot of time playing target practice using rocks or dead trees – and keeping the rifles on minimal power, of course (which is enough to burn if it hits you, yet not cause any critical injury). I would’ve thought something like deadly weapons would have scared Aki off, considering the peaceful, live-and-love nature of her and her people, yet she fires them like she means business. It’s actually quite entertaining to watch her, especially considering how good she’s proving to be, almost to the point where she could give me a run for my money. There’s something that’s really rather sexy about seeing this beautiful, scantily clad foxgirl fire military rifles with deadly accuracy … though I try to perish the thought whenever it hits. I do wonder if she hasn’t noticed how I see her, though; sometimes, I could swear she strikes just the right poses to turn any watching male into a horndog. I am resisting her teasing, though, if that’s what it is. Feisty girl.

Kira isn’t exactly happy with her daughter firing rifles, though, and has voiced her concerns many times – as she does with anything else, that is. Aki is always quick to dispel her fears and send her off. This really is all just for fun, and I have to admit, I never thought target practice, something meant to improve your aim for the sake of better killing your enemy, could be so lighthearted and enjoyable.

She also likes it when I teach her some basic hand-to-hand combat moves, even though most of the time we just end up wrestling like idiots on the ground. I’m always careful not to try anything on her that would hurt her, though I keep telling her that she can try whatever she wants on me. I’m beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea, though, seeing how quickly she’s proving to be an adept little fighter. I really enjoy teaching her combat moves – but then, I enjoy teaching her pretty much anything, really. She’s such a quick learner, and she loves to try new things. All the opposite of me, I daresay.

I love this place. More than I’ve ever loved anyplace else, or anything else, before. It’s the only place I’ve known where I can sit back, relax, and just enjoy life as it comes without checking over my shoulder every now and then, or doing things that every part of me screams are wrong. I’ve been sleeping longer and better than ever before, and I’m not sure, but I could swear I feel more … awake. More alive. Which only makes sense, I suppose. This place has become my home, and everyone here happily accepts me as part of their own. The future may never be certain … but I can safely say that I can honestly see myself living with these people until the end of my days. Not only because I have nowhere else to go, but because there’s really nowhere else I’d rather be. New Corinthea is but a memory by now, a nagging presence in my mind that’s slowly withdrawing the more time I spend amongst the anthros and indulging in the joys of life. I have everything I could ever need or want: peace, safety, company … and Aki, whom I am more thankful to than she can ever possibly know.

Anyway, I started writing this when the sun was setting and now it’s getting really dark, and bedtime is about to be called. I’ve written far more than I thought I would, considering how I’ve already detailed at length my experiences and thoughts about the anthros. Anyway. Signing out.

Sean “The Human” O’Neil
Home safe and happy
Anthro village, Earth