by Duncan Cougar and Quentin Long
©2005 Cougar and Long
|An earlier version of this installment of the TBP (Tales of the Blind Pig) serial Running Wild previously appeared in TSAT #47
Go here for more information on the TBP setting
Day 5: Feline 101
Jube found himself in the serene half-state between awake and asleep; not dreaming, not thinking, just
existing, calm and relaxed. He felt better than he had in years. Nevertheless, something was odd, or wasnt it..? It felt like he was lying on a sofa, cozy with his back to the rear, warm, safe, tucked in by a paw over his chest
In a twinkling, the cheetah was fully alert and standing.
What the fuck are you doing there!
Before you shouted in my ear? the puma inquired before indulging in a cavernous yawn that granted the cheetah an unobstructed view of all the teeth in his jaws. Since you ask: I had been sleeping.
Sleeping!? Jubatus had trouble controlling his outrage.
Yeah. Sleeping. Now, if you dont mind, I will just get back to napping. And Duncan followed up on his words by turning onto his stomach, stretching a little and closing his eyes again with a sigh.
But the cheetah would have none of that. Why did you sneak up on me last night!
Sneak up? My, oh my. Arent we a bit testy this morning!
When you find that some perverse animal snuggled up to you in your sleep, you damn well bet! Who wouldnt get pissed off about that!
Perverse? These Americanshmph! the puma thought. Ah, well. Lets see how close he is to wanting to talk about sexuality Back up a bit, Jube. What is so wrong with snuggling? It is a fine way to conserve body heat, especially when
You fu- bloody well know whats wrong! Two men sleeping togetherHm. Can he be a homophobe? the puma asked himselfand theyre not even the same goddamn species!
Duncan nodded. So, it is not imaginary homosexual behavior he objects to, its just his standard I am not an animal routine. Yes, quite right, two different species. What of it? Is this perhaps the height of a cheetahs mating season? It certainly isnt a pumas!
I dont care if Here the spotted cat broke off, as rational thought finally caught up to his careening tongue. He sat, blinking, for a few moments, and the ire faded from his scent. Oh right. Mating season. Wrong time of year. I thought Now he shook his head, banishing certain thoughts from his mind. Hrrm. Never mind what I thought, I was way the hell wrong. Sorry about that.
No, the puma judged, he is not yet ready to bring this out into the open. Very well; lets try it again, three to five days from now Of course. But you slept well, right?
Sleep Thats not the point!
No? Tell me: When was the last time you really had a good nights sleep and felt like you had it.
Well sort of.
You mean, no.
I What the hell did you do to me!?
The puma shrugged. I only tried to make you more comfortable. I might even tell you how you can achieve that without me snuggling up to you, since you find that distasteful.
Why What have you done?
I think that can wait until after breakfast. I assume youre hungry?
Hungry. I yes, damn it. You promised to take care of it!
And I will. Dont you worry! Duncan said, when he began his morning stretch routine.
The cheetah watched it going on and on. Maybe I should join in Like hell I should! Stop that!
Jubes inner conflict did not escape the cougar-SCABs notice. You really ought to give your body a little stretch from time to time, too. Should do you lots of good and yes, even humans do that if they know what is good for them. By the way, how is your back?
My Here Jubatus gave his spine a few experimental twists and turns, arching it back and forth, up and down. its okay. Doesnt hurt. Just feels I dont know relaxed?
Good. So, you are ready to start with your training?
Start training? What the hellstart withwhat have I been doing before now!? Havent you already done more than enough to me? What madness are you talking about now?
Up to now, it was just preparation for the real stuff. Laying a foundation, you might say. Getting rid of all the excess baggage, so that it wont interfere when you really are learning how to be a cat.
You call those torments of the last days preparation!? Sekhmets claws!what else have you got in store?
Lots of things! But first, I think we should start with your senses. You dont seem to have even the slightest clue what they are capable of and what they are supposed to do.
Senses? What about them? Vision, hearing, feeling, tasting and smell. So what?
For starters you might want to put them in the right order. Scenting, hearing, vision, smell-taste and feeling.
I like my order just fine! And if you dont mind, I would like to order breakfast, now!
No need for any of that snarling, Jube. I will show you a nearby all-you-can-eat snack bar, said the cougar, making his way towards the caves exit.
Snack bar? Thats something I gotta see to believe! replied the spotted cat, slowly following the puma on all fours. I suppose its right next to the coffee shop?
Duncan did not bother to answer what was clearly a rhetorical question. Ah! The smells of early morning after a rainy night. You are in for a treat now, Jubatus, he said, turning his head back. Living in civilization, you do not get much use of your nose, Im thinking. Maybe you even wish you have no sense of smell, yes?
The cheetahs expression was a clear indicator of how he felt about urban aromas. So what? I happen to like the smell of a civilized breakfast: Coffee, toast, eggseven if I cant have any of that stuff.
I know what you mean, but this is better. Come on, step outside, take a sniff of the air.
Why? You actually have a coffee shop hidden under some rock? Jubatus called after the mountain lion, who had bounded off like a playful kitten, jumping and rolling through the high grass, still wet from the rain of the day before. Not inclined to follow the cougars example, the cheetah tested the wet ground before him.
Come on! Duncan called again, when he saw the spotted cat. Geez, stop playing oddside.
Naturally its wet. It has been raining for hours.
Yeah. And its still wet! And what do you mean by oddside?
A game cats play, that I had hoped to skip in your education. But seems you just have to start your lessons at the bottom of the list.
What are you talking about?
FIS: Feline Indecisive Syndrome. Something insecure cats show a lot, not knowing if they want to go or stay and teetering on the brink of inside and outside. In short; staying in oddside.
Me, insecure? Get stuffed! And I keep telling you, Im not a cat at all! And to prove his point, the cheetah jumped out into the wet grass, stalking towards the waiting cougar as if on stilts, trying to minimize contact with that evil wet stuff on the ground.
Just as someone living near a railroad would, over time, learn to tune out the noise from passing trains, Jubatus had early on stopped paying attention to all those bothersome aromas accosting his nose. No wonder, given the cacophony of scents that anything with a real nose had to endure in any kind of setting near civilization. The smells from hundreds (if not thousands!) of people; of food being prepared, clothes being washed, perfumes, incense burned; of sewage, the exhaust from innumerable cars, fires, heating; all of these blended into an ill-matched pandemonium of scents. As bad, if not worse, was the potpourri of sounds that battered the ears at the same time; all thanks to the progress of humankind, of technology and civilization. Of course, primitive settings did have their very own set of more-than-bothersome features, not to mention bugs and worse. It was a matter of picking ones preferred set of annoyances; you took the bad with the worse and tried to endure what couldnt be ignored. Fortunately, the cheetahs conscious mind could ignore most scents and even sounds which didnt mean his instincts were similarly inclined.
But with all what had happened in the last few days, the cheetahs nose had become hyperacuteas had his other senses. The aromas entering it now were no less powerful than anything hed had to endure in the last years, only this time, instead of the olfactory equivalent of the noise of several highways and railroads and an airport combined, the scents blended into each other like the sounds of an symphony orchestra. Equally loud, close up, but thats where all the similarities ended. He could smell the earthy, slightly musky odor of the wet ground, the grass, the trees, the scents brought to him by the wind. His vibrissae detected each and every air current and tagged each scent with a direction. He knew that scent of flowers was coming from over there, even before he could see the flowers. And what was that scent? Animal, the cheetahs instincts pronounced. Cougar. Duncan.
And sure enough, the puma was sitting over there, watching him, breathing, smelling.
Greetings! You like it?
Is it always like this?
These smells. Do you
Ah, ah! the puma interrupted shaking his head.
I mean does it smell like this all the time?
All the time? Hrmmm He considered this question for a time before replying: No. Sometimes its better. Once you allow yourself to experience things for what they are, and not for what they had been when you were still only human, or even what they should be from some silly notion or other, there is a lot to appreciate.
There isnt much point in reminding you that I am human, is there? Ive been telling you for days, and all I get is your feline crap.
Because all I get is your human shit. Thats okay; I will have it all, soon, Duncan said, then turned and sauntered off along the path. Come, lets not keep our breakfast waiting. Jubatus stared unbelievingly at the cougars tail vanishing in the undergrowth. Did he just say what I thought he said..? There was no visible sign of the cougar. It was almost as if the trees and stones had swallowed him up! Jube remembered all to well his fruitless attempt at tracking down that cat on his first day here. Shit! Hes gone how the hell am I supposed to follow that son of a bitch? If I was a cat, no problem, Id just track him by scent? His whiskers vibrated; inhaling deeply, the cheetah searched for a familiar scentall too familiar, by nowand found it. There, and there, the cougar had left a trail of scent with his paws. The trailinvisible to his eyesseemed to almost glow to his nose. Well, whaddaya know: It works! I will find you, and when I do, youaretoast!
Thus inspired to follow his nose, Jubatus tracked the cougar. At first that task was as easy as could be; the other cat had walked along the trail, each paw print clearly scentible to the cheetah. But then the pumas gait changed, from walking to loping, even bounding here and there. That made the trail (such as it was) far more difficult to follow by scent alone, but there were still more than enough visual cues; paw prints in the mud, grass still bent by the impact of the cougars bouncing, a tuft of fur on some branches at a narrow spot. Soon, all the cheetahs senses operated at their maximum level of acuity, providing his human intellect with the necessary inputs for working out the other cats path. And quite a labour that had become, as the puma left fewer and fewer clues with every new hectometer he travelled.
Now, the cougars path was marked by only the slightest smudge mark on wet stone; hardly any plants were out of place. If not for the cheetahs nose being this close to the groundand that much closer to any minuscule trace of scentJube would have lost the trail ages ago. But still he followed, ever more slowly, ever more careful, so as not to overshoot the trail and lose his quarry. The path led him along deer-trails, their scent mixing and overlaying the other cats spoor. Why, that stinking son of adamn itwhere the hell did he go? Ha! There! The lion had passed beneath a fallen tree, then turned back and jumped on the log. He left only slight scratch-marks on the wet bark, but those were tell-tale enough. Damn. This thingits diameter is ten feet if its an inch! Barks kinda crumbly no branches to grab how the hell do I get up there? The solution was reasonably obvious; coiling back on his haunches, Jubatus took careful aim, then jumped.
The cheetah landed on precisely the spot hed intended; alas, he hadnt taken into account the texture of his target. Ouch! Wheres that slippery when wet sign when you need it? His scrabbling claws sent a blizzard of bark-chips flying, but in the end had indeed stopped him from falling off that log, albeit only just barely. And when the sawdust settled, he lay squarely atop said dead tree, clinging for dear life with every available limb. Okay, that tears it.That cougar is sooo fucking dead, once I get a hold of him! With renewed vigor Jubatus picked himself up, following the track of the wildcat. His head bent low, shifting from side to side, his nose sampling every spot for a whiff, the cheetahs eyes searched for any trace left by the devil cat.
By now his attention was fully focused on this task, and this task alone. His silent steps startled more than one unsuspecting creature; some fowl, some deer, even a few rabbits and other small creatures. His ears twitched from time to time to any sound, instantly dismissing it when his eyes or nose confirmed that it had not been made by the cougar. That damned feline had resorted to almost every trick imaginable to throw his hunter off his track: Mixing his trail with that of other mammals, switching directions, going up trees or (worse, at least from the cheetahs point of view) up stony cliffs and down treacherous ravines. The spotted cats quarry never followed a simple course, nor yet went in a straight line; he obscured his scent-traces, even hiding them by dragging leaves onto his trail or walking in one of the rivulets that seemed to be virtually omnipresent in this area. However, the cheetah followedpenetrating every ploy, unearthing every scent, trace or clueslowly, but unstoppably, until
Hold it! Jubatus thought. I know this scent! And indeed he did, as it was his own! ThatgoddamnedCougar! he cursed. Hes toying with me! Well, this game hasnt been played out, yet! And with dark thoughts of retribution and bloody vengeance he kept on tracking.
For his part, Duncan had followed the cheetahs trail, which, in turn, followed the cougars earlier path. Alas, Jubatus soon discovered that he couldnt seem to distinguish between his quarrys new and old tracks. Even when he was flehming for all he was worth, there seemed to be no difference. After he had carefully checked for any clues that he might be watched by a certain miscreant, he even stooped so low as trying to take a sample of the pumas scent with his tongue, pressing it directly against the vomeronasal organ at the roof of his muzzle. But it was all to no avail; there was simply no indication which overlain track was the newer of the two! Each one seemed to be just as strong, just as fresh, as the other. Were it not for the occasional paw-print, and his knowledge of their starting point, the cheetah wouldnt even have been able to tell in which direction the mountain lion had walked.
Why do people call this kind of thing a wild goose chase? They should name it wild cat chase. If I didnt know the bastard was out here, Id almost think he sent me on a snipe hunt Now what? Start the whole thing over again? Keep chasing my damn tail? With a sigh, Jube took up the trail. Fine hes gotta step off sometime, somewhere. Hes probably sitting down someplace, having a good laugh as he watches the cheetah running in circles around him. Well, well see who laughs last! Soon, however, the two trails diverged; one of them was painfully obvious, with seemingly no effort to hide it and, worse, leading away from the circle. Must be a false lead, Jubatus thought while contemplating his options, staring at the new trail. After all the trouble that cougar had gone through to hide his track, there was no way this open, in-your-snout, absolutely obtrusive trail of paw-prints could be anything but another trick. Still, it was the only place hed found that held any indication of where the cougar had left the circle. Rrrr When youve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And fuck you very much, Mr. Holmes Fuming, Jubatus followed this new path made by his host, a path that all too soon led to a clearingand ended there, right in the middle of it, in what looked like a place where a miniature tornado had gone folk-dancing. The puma must have rolled around in the high grass; several square meters were flattened or otherwise messed up. The cougars spoor was everywhere, it seemed! Where Jube had formerly had trouble getting at least a slight whiff, he now could hardly keep from smelling anything else. He tricked me, again! Damn that cat; he could be anywhere by now. Hell, he might have even walked the other way on that circle, with all the lead he must have on me For one last check Jube even tried to stand up, but only managed to rise slightly above sitting on his haunches before he lost his balance. Shitbacks still no good. Damnit, I need some food! And that means I need to find the cougar. Bastards my meals ticket, unless
With a sigh that sounded uncomfortably like a pitiful meow, the cheetah turned around, trudging back to where hed left the trail, dragging his tail behind.
Hello there, stranger! You got any pressing business elsewhere? came Duncans voice from close behind. The cheetahs fur stand on end, when he turned around in a flash.
You! Where the hell did you come from!?
Who, me? I just took a nap in the grass over there, waiting for you.
Why did you do it?
Well, the sun is out again, the grass here is already dry and
Forget the damn napping! You went running offwhy!?
Yes, that! I thought you were gonna bring me some breakfast, instead you just walk out on me.
And here I thought youd have gotten tired of breakfast in bed by now
Thats not the point! You got any idea how much trouble it was to follow your path?
I rather think I do. Have you any idea how much trouble it was to lay down such a labyrinthine trail?
Thatyouwhat the hell was the point of dragging me though this godforsaken wilderness?
Tsk-tsk! It may not be much, but I call it home, Duncan replied. And for all my efforts, you did manage to follow meeven caught up in the end. So what is the problem?
The problem!? You! You might like creeping around on all fours through the undergrowth, sniffing around for breakfast, but I sure dont. I am not a
Yes, yes, Duncan interrupted. You are not a catI heard it the first twelve dozen times. You neednt repeat it twelve dozen more.
WellrrrIm not a cat, damnit! And youre a piss-poor host, leaving me to starve!
Oh, please, Jube. Surely you dont think I should have just brought you breakfast, and kept on sweet-talking you into using your feline senses and instincts for half a day or more, until you magnanimously deigned to go along with another of my peculiar demands!
Thatyouthats not what I meant!
You know, I could have done it your way. But would you have used what you got so enthusiastically? No, I think not. My way, I only need to say a few wordsand you put every ounce of cunning into your first session. Congratulations, you passed it with flying colors.
Session? This all was just a test!?
Your first training lesson, yes. The syllabus covered how to follow a trail, and how to distinguish different scents and concentrate on the one you want to follow. Very important for us hunters.
Hunt..? Forget it! Im not going to do it, no way! So you can give up right now with your tricks and scheming!
So you arent hungry, yet?
Hungry, you bet. Jubatus said without thinking, and only then realizing that he was more than just hungry. Shit, with his attention focused on hu- chasing after the cougar, he had almost forgotten the hollow feeling in his stomach. Unfortunately, his stomach hadnt forgotten. Not at all! By now, it felt like his internal vacuum was getting ready to eat its way through his backbone. Rrrr Im starving.
So shall we grab a few snacks before starting with your next lesson?
Im not The cheetah aborted his oncoming tirade. Snacks? What kind of snacks?
I am so glad that you ask. Cant you hear them running around in the grass?
Hear? Hear what? What kind of madness..?
Always with the negative waves, Jube. Always with the negative waves. The spotted SCABs mind boggledwas he hearing things, or had the puma actually tried to emulate the voice of Donald Sutherland? Really! Here, I will show you, said Duncan, and he bounced off towards something scurrying through the grass. A pounce and an abrupt squeak later, Duncan came back with his snack.
Oh no, you didnt you dont mean for me to How can you do that!?
Mwhad? replied the cougar with a mouthful of mouse, its tail dangling and still quivering.
How can you eat that!?
One slurping sound (and a tail that vanished like a strand of spaghetti) later: Very easily! As it happens, there are two schools of thought. Some think chewing is optional at bestjust swallow and enjoy the tinkling of tiny paws scrambling down your throatwhile others say that a few bites are required to bring out the full flavor. You might try both and then tell me what you think is more tasty, hm?
Jubatus could only stare at his host; the cougars words had left him speechless.
You look a bit pale around the nose. Something wrong?
Something wrong? Everythings wrong! How Christ on a sidecar! Just watching it makes me sick! And you really believe Ill join you in this this cruelty?
Cruelty? What are you talking about? Its food! Those are mice, and we are cats! Its the most natural thing in the world!
Well, Im not
Pfft! Going for twelve dozen plus one, I see.
Rrrrr I. Am. Not. A. Cat!
Not? You keep saying that, but maybe such a good human hunter will help a poor kitty catch his quarry?
Catch? You think Im going to do any of that, you can go to Hell. Human or feline, Im not a damn hunter, you got that!
Of course not, as loud as you are. How about this: You point them out, and I pounce them. Or are you blind and deaf as well?
Piss off. Theres nothing to point out.
Not? And here I thought I had heard something over there.
The cheetah couldnt help but look at the spot the cougar stared at. Both cats ears were trained on the tiny sounds emanating from behind a tuft of grass. The renowned feline focus took over; both cats attention was riveted on the mouse that cowered behind the grass. The cougars tail was slashing out, his hindquarters rocking from side to side. The cheetah watched open-mouthed, taking in the sound, the sight, the scent of the prey.
Suddenly, the puma jumpedpouncedon the still-unsuspecting animal! Its last squeak rang in the cheetahs ears; he was still engrossed in the hunt, the kill.
Have a bite! said the cougar; with a practiced move, he snagged the mouses tail with his left forepaw and deftly threw the protein towards the spotted cat.
The cheetah almost caught it, by reflex, but managed to hold back at the last instant. Horrified, Jubatus starred at the dead carcass in front of himthe one he had nearly caught in his mouth! His instincts hadnt even tried to spur his hands into action, which, in turn, caught him completely off-guard. It shouldnt have. Cats had paws, not hands, so how should he catch this tasty smelling morsel, other than with his fangs?
Another mouse landed in front of him, startling him out of his ever-darkening thoughts. Duncan! Stop thatwhat the hell do you think youre doing!
Beside bringing my client some nice treats, before starting his first day of training?
Treats! Jube shouted. You really expect me to eat this vermin!?
Sureunless youd rather go looking for other stuff to eat.
What other stuff? Theres nothing edible in sight!
Use your other senses! Dont you hear all those delicious things, just waiting to be grabbed and swallowed? Besides, there are those dead mice in front of you. They arent going to get any fresher by lying dead in the grass.
Forget it! Im not going to eat this! the outraged cheetah said, pointing a claw at the small bodies lying in front of him.
Not? Okay, then I will just catch a few more for myself, was the cougars answer. Not bothering to wait for more talk from his client, he instead searched the high grass for more treats. The spotted cat watched his host pouncing on, and wolfing down, snack after snack.
Jubatus had thought about what insanity he might next need to deal with to get foodthe next piece of his soul hed have to sell to the devils cat that happened to be his host for the time being. He had thought long and hard on it during his restnot that his rest ever was truly restful, except for last night. What the hell did he do to me?Since coming here, the one thing he had been most afraid of had been that sooner or later, the other cat might force him in a position where he had to
His worst fear had been that his host might not even give him this much, that hed have to go out and chase down and
One thing he hadnt bothered contemplating had been that Duncan might offer him food for free, but thats exactly what the puma had done! Only he couldnt eat it. Not mice Why not? said a voice in the back of his head. They dont look so bad, and they smell pretty good. Might be tasty, too
No! He couldnt eat mice. Cats ate mice, and he wasnt a cat. Q.E.D.
Fine, but dont you want to know if they taste as good as they smell? Hmmm? inquired the traitorous voice from his hindbrain No! That wasntcouldnt bepossible. If he did eat them, he might as well sign his membership to the feline race. In blood. And after that, there wasnt any way back, was there? If he ate even one, hed have as good as admitted to himself and the world that he really was a cat. But he wasnt! So he wouldnt.
This was one nightmare he had never even dreamed about, and now he wasnt dreaming, it was happening. It was either mice or or or what? By comparison, even hunting didnt sound too bad Oh, fuckingby all the gods that never werewhat am I thinking!?
As hungry as he was, he could still clearly see the problem: He had to eat s0mething. If not mice, something elsebut what? He had to eat, and his last meal was more than a day ago, and the vacuum that had been his stomach was becoming more uncomfortable by the second. Question was, when would it be uncomfortable enough to swallow No, he wasnt going to do that. Hed rather what? What would he rather
It was thenwhen his mind was racing for alternatives, for anything that kept him from contemplating the tasty scent of a fresh kill, emanating from those small bodies (still warm!) right in front of himthat a buzzing sound registered in his mind, followed by a stinging sensation before a mosquito got thrown off from his flicking ear. Greatnow the locals are sucking me dry.
Damn it! Why are you doing this to me? If you had to steal my car, at least you could have left me my vest. That way I could do something about being eaten alive by your little friends. And to emphasize his words, he swatted at one of the more bothersome flies that were buzzing around the two cats.
So you dont mind killing if whatever-it-is bothers you enough?
Killing? What are you talking about, theyre just insects!
Yes. They are. So you dont mind killing things, as long as they are a lot smaller than you?
Its not a question of size, damn it. Theyre just some bloody bugs!
Mmh, right. Have you talked about that with your doc?
What are you talking about?
Derksen, your doc-roach. Does he know about your attitude problem towards him and his fellow insects?
He isnt an insecthes human and a polymorph.
Who happens to have a remarkable affinity for cockroaches, yes.
He knows I would never hurt him!
But you dont trust yourself on that, or you wouldnt be so bothered about a little hunting for your meals.
Thats not it! Not. At. All. I just dont trust these instincts, all this feline stuff.
Well, then: Its a good thing that you are now going to learn all about it, yes?
Good!? Its insane! I should have never agreed to it.
Well, why did you? Why did you come here?
Jubatus muzzle worked silently, as if to find the right words, but when he finally did speak: I couldve sat on my couch, listening to some music and enjoying a big fat steak. But no, I had to fall for your ploy.
Ploy? I only handed you the invitation? It was your choice to take it or leave it.
Hah, and what about Wanderer and Hallan bugging me all about it?
Yeah, right, play the innocent cat. As if I could believe anything you say. And what did you do to me last night?
You mean, beside making sure that for once you get a good nights rest?
Yeah And here Jubatus looked worried. I did feel more rested. How?
As much as you seem to hate the idea, Jube, scents are very important to us cats.
Yeah, we had that drill already, remember? Chase that scent, right? Whats that got to do with me sleeping through the night?
Actually, us cats dont use our noses for chasing prey, thats what ears and eyes are for. But scent, we use that to mark out our turf and make ourselves right at home.
And that means what?
You have been in a strange place, with strange sounds and scents. Its no surprise that you had trouble sleeping; there wasnt enough of your scent around to make your inner kitty feel at home, safe and secure.
And how does that theory work with a big sneaky cat snuggling against my back? Thats about as unsafe, insecure and un-home as it can get!
You think so? Weve been sharing scents for days now. Why dont you take a sniff at your hide, or even your paws, for some genuine, unchanged by civilization, Jubatus spoor.
Dubiously Jube looked at the mountain lion. Hes got to be kidding. Isnt he? Well, it cant hurt to try. After all, its not like my own scents going to kill me I hope
Gaaah!! Holy shit. I really need a bath. I stink!
You think so? Why dont you give it another try.
No. I stink like like
A cat? A cheetah? Yourself?
No! Like a predator.
Well, yes. And?
I need a bath! And some food! and here Jubatus swatted at another mosquito buzzing around his ears. And some insect repellant! This is unbearable!
Okay; lets do something about those insects. Come, Ill show you how we keep them at bay around here.
You got some insect repellant hidden under a tree?
Not quite. Duncan answered while walking towards the west side of the clearing. See those plants over there? Its lemon grass. It contains quite a bit of citronella, a main constituent of many insect repellants. At least of the more natural ones.
And we do what? Roll around in it?
Nah, that would never do for covering the whole body.
You arent asking me to spread it all over by licking my
Not a bad idea. But rather inefficient. Seeing the expression of utter disgust on his clients face, Duncan added, Dont worry, we will leave Proper fur care and grooming for later.
You misspelled never. But what do you want me to do with that?
Eat. Grass!? Jubatus asked incredulously. Thanks. Not! Im still sick from watching you eat those mice. No need to make me sick for real by swallowing green stuff.
Always with the negative waves, Jube. Always with the negative waves. Well, fine; enjoy your buzzing little friends then, while I freshen up my protection, said the cougar, who started munching on the lemon grass. Quite tasty, in an unusual way. You really should give it a try.
However, when it became apparent that the puma wasnt going to throw up, and hadnt poisoned himself, Jubatus couldnt help his curiosity. Its something to eat. And while its not exactly nourishing, at least itll fill my stomach. And if it really does keep those god-forsaken buzzing bloodsuckers at bay, its worth it. But grass? Thats so what? Un-human? Un-feline? Undignified, thats what it is. Still He nibbled tentatively at one of the grassy leaves. Hmm, doesnt taste too bad.
Its also good for cleaning your teeth. See, you can brush them like that. And here Duncan see-sawed his head from side to side while munching on a still-rooted strand of lemon grass.
Thanks. Id rather do it my way. Jubatus answered. Tearing off a few leaves, he pulled them between his fangs as if they were ordinary dental floss. So whats the deal with lemon grass?
The citronella isnt digested. Instead, some of it gets into our the blood stream, and from there it goes to all parts of the body. In short, over time you get a whole-body insect protection from the inside out.
If you havent already been sucked dry
What do you think tails are for? Beside many other things, they help make sure any overly-curious insects learn to keep their distance the hard way.
Before long, that patch of lemon grass was exhausted, and Duncan padded away, followed by an unsteady cheetah. When the two cats were back to their resting place in the middle of the clearing, Jubatus grumbled: I thought you said this was a snack bar. Doesnt that imply more than one kind of snack?
Sure. You want some grasshoppers?
Bleah! Duncan, when are you going to catch our breakfast?
I already did. You just havent eaten it yet.
All you got is mice! Im talking breakfast here!
And why should mice not be breakfast?
Because Please, Duncan, cant you just catch somethinganythingelse?
Mmmh no. Not on a full stomach like that.
No!? This isnt funny, Duncan! My empty stomach is killing me.
Well, then, I would suggest you eat what is already on the table.
No! I Ill pay you. 10,000 bucks for a deer? 50,000? 100,000?
You got pockets in your fur coat?
What? Of course not! Why?
Just wondering where you might be hiding that money.
I can write you a check, once I get my Extremis back.
Tell me, Jube: Where am I going to spend all that money around here, and on what?
Why are you asking me!? Itll be your money, spend it however you like! Justpleasecant you take care of breakfast?
Are your checks tasty?
What? Damn it, stop talking about food and start catching some!
Jube, what I am getting at is that money isnt really worth much around here, where you cant buy anything with it. Back in civilization, sure, there its a necessity, but here its just pieces of paper. And neither of us is good at stomaching that.
Isnt there anything I could do, so that you will catch breakfast?
And kill it?
Mmh, well, a good grooming would help to make up my mind about that.
Yeah, you are right. A beginner like you would hardly be able to do a good enough job to be worth hunting an animal down for.
Thats not Damn you, its your job to keep me alive and now Im starving to death!
Rrrr Jubatus knew all too well the terms of that contract hed signed and agreed to, no matter what state of derangement he might have been in at the time. No. But, its so easy for you to do, cant you just do it, please?
Mmmh, and what do you offer in return? And no, money is right out. Even if you had any right now, that would be completely unethical for me to accept. After all, you already paid me. So what are you willing to do, to make me kill another living thing for you to feed on?
I I dont know. Maybe what about I give you a massage? Would you please..?
Well, its worth a try. But I am not going to agree on anything, unless I like it.
O-okay. Ill, um, do it, is here-and-now good?
By all means! And the mountain lion stretched himself out on the ground, well-poised for Jubatus to go to work. Duncan was quite curious to see how well his client would perform this task; how much would his bone-deep antipathy towards all things feline get in the way? In any case, the simple fact of making the effort at all would earn Jube his mealif it was done well, that would be lagniappe.
As it happened, the massage did go fairly well; what the cheetah lacked in experience was made up for by the dexterousness of his forepaws. And since Duncans hide was every bit as tough as that of any other mountain lion, he was unaffected by slips of Jubes clawed hands which which would have left bleeding cuts in a human back. The spotted cat worked systematically, pushing and kneading at every square inch of Duncans back, each in its turn. And if his forepaws occasionally trembled with fear or for want of food, the puma did not mind in the least. All in all, Duncan found the experience to be a pleasant one.
Eventually, Jubatus ran out of new areas to push and prod at. Well thats it, he said. You like?
Yeah, not bad. Worth at least four mice.
Ok, make that five.
No! No, no, no! No mice! Im not a c-
Duncan interrupted with an extremely rude noise that drowned out the cheetahs words. Jube, you are a cat, the cougar-SCAB stated. I can supply you with prey to feed upon, but if you refuse to eat, wheres the point?
I cant. I Im just not ready to not this!
Jube, what do you think I have been doing in the last days?
You mean, beside torturing me?
Studying you and what you know already about the feline life style.
To better torture me.
No! So that I can provide you with situations, lessons and training thatwhile challengingare not beyond your capabilities.
To endure torture.
Will you stop that? the mountain lion interjected annoyed. Why dont you take a sniff at your front paw and tell me what you smell?
Whatever. What do you smell?
Suspiciously Jubatus starred at his right appendage. What is that puma up to now? Hesitatingly he took a whiff. Has it become even stronger? Only it didnt smell quite so bad, or did it? Suspiciously he sampled the scent of his paw again. His scent, and that of Duncan. The spoor of two completely different individuals, even species. So different, but at the same time so very similar: the essence of two cats.
No, Jube moaned.
After tracking all morning that is all you can tell me? Duncan asked, then stepped closer and rubbed his head against the cheetahs muzzle, in the way of two felines greeting each other. Only for an instant Jube wanted to draw back, before a new kind of calmness spread through his body. Smells good, feels even better, he thought, when he reciprocated. A purr started to emanate from his chest, which didnt stop when the Duncan drew back and sat down on his haunches, watching his client.
What have you done to me?
Scents, Jube, are a very important aspect of our feline life. Our own scent, especially, can greatly effect how we feel. We need it around for feeling secure, safe, at home.
Im not a goddamn cat!
But I am. And pray, tell me, are our fragrances that different, compared with that of humans?
No. But No!
Why dont you check it again?
Jube took another sniff at his paws. There was no denying it, as much as he wanted, but the two odors, were too close, to familiar and too different from what he remembered of human bouquet. Something he hadnt smelled for days, that didnt cling to his fur at all, didnt surround him anymore with civilizationand the ever present humans it containedfar away. He should feel upset, but instead was more relaxed, calm than ever. Maybe another sniff. Yes, that feels much better now.
It took more than a minute before Jubatus realized that his own scent did indeed affect himself. Hold it, what am I doing. Whats happening. Holy shit! Its like Im on some strange sort of drugs
Doesnt feel so bad to be a cat, finally, does it?
Pleadingly he starred at the mountain lion, the inner turmoil clearly visible on his face and body, asking for another verdict, some respite. This couldnt be true, he wasnt or was he? Lets checkNoBut it smells rather niceNoYou will feel betterNooo!
And then the truth dawned on him: Oh my God Im hooked on my own scent!
Looks like you really have earned your breakfast by now. Why dont you let your inner feline out to play for a bit: Locate and chase down your meal.
During the short period of Duncans speech, the cheetah became greatly more calm. Now he frowned, saying, And kill it.
Did I say that? Come, now. This is a necessary exercise. You worry so about your instincts; do you not wish to know, from experience, whether or not the beast truly will decimate your sentience? You didnt need to come here to live in terror of your own self
And if Im going to do that anyway, why am I here. Isnt that what you were going to ask?
The question had crossed my mind, yes. Your answer?
Jubatus lay still for a moment, silent and shivering. Then he finally asked, so quiet as to be near inaudible, What if I like it?
Duncan tilted his head, considering. If you enjoy hunting prey, you enjoy hunting prey. So? To be honest, I do not see the problem.
You wouldnt. What if I like it so fucking much that I never want to stop?
The two felines stared into each others eyes. The cheetahs were filled with fear; the pumas, with compassion.
I am your guide, I will help you through this. One way or the other. And if in the end you need to die, you will.
It was Jubatus who lowered his gaze first. Suddenly he smiled: Its funny I never thought Id be grateful when somebody promised to kill me
Should that be the only alternative, then and only then. But truly, dont you want to know what living like a cheetah is all about before you start killing the cat?
What makes you think I want to know about that? I mean Look, Ive got this, this mindless thing lurking in the back of my skull, okay? Its an animal. It cant read or write, it cant talk, it doesnt know anything. All its good for is eating, sleeping, and fucking. A-and if I let it take over all Im good for is eating, sleeping, and fucking
But you dont actually know that. Not for certain, the puma observed.
I cant goddamn take that chance! Jubatus screamed, his face distorted by fear and hunger. Just rryowwr! Leave me alone And with those words, he curled in on himself, becoming a sometimes-trembling ball of fur.
Hm. This isnt good, Duncan thought. He might actually have sufficient willpower to ignore the world until he starves to death well, lets see which is stronger; his insane dread of himself, or his curiosity plus survival instinct. Finding a comfortable spot, the cougar sat down and began to speak at his seemingly-inert client: You speak of the beast, Jube, and that is not a bad turn of phrase; what you must do is very like training an animal. Fortunately, animal training is a field for which there is thousands of years of time-tested lore. Right now, what you have done to control your personal beast is put chain after chain around its neck and legs, shut it away into a corner, trap it within iron bars. As long as it is chained up like that, as long as the cage holds, you got it under controlif you want to call it that. Now look at it from the beasts perspective. It doesnt know why this is being done to it, but what can it do? The flight reflex tells it to try and run, but chained up like that, all it can do is curl up and wait for a merciful death. On the other paw, the fight reflex tells it to bide its time; wait for a chance to break free, to kill everybody in the general vicinity, on the grounds that that gives it the best odds of vengeance upon those who have inflicted this pain on it.
I know all that! Jube said. Ha! Gotcha! the puma thought, but he did not allow his pleasure to show on his face. What I dont know, is what the hell alternative have I got!?
Patience, please. Right now your beast is biding its time, but one day, one of two things will occur: Either its will to survive has been broken, or it will break free, even if it is going to be killed in the processbut since the animal is an integral part of you, its death will include you, too, and maybe not just you. If you never give an animal any slack, you can never know when you have controlyou can only tell when you have reached the end of the tether. What you have done to your beast is the equivalent of chains and beatings; an external sort of control, you might say. Such things can work, but only for a limited time. And when they fail, the beast will do as it pleaseswhich is likely nothing you would appreciate. No, what you want is for the beast to want to do your will; an internal sort of control, that is to say. If things are going as you intended without so much as a tether, it is only then that you truly have control. And true, genuine control over your beastnot threats or chains or beatingsis exactly what you need to have, as long as you are going to interact with human society. But then there are ways to control an animal, where you wont even need a leash after a while: Understanding, Trust, Co-Operation.
You make it sound so easy, but it doesnt work! I tried and I failed. Oh Lord, how miserably I failed
Just yesterday, with with that rabbit. I tried to talk to it, tried to reason with it and teach it not to eat rabbit, but you know what happened. It I tore into it anyway. Therezzz n-n-no way to control it! And with a sob, Jubatus added, There is no way back.
You talked to it, but are you sure you used the right language?
Language, what language? Its me, at least a part of me. A part I will never be free of, never! Dont you understand!?
A part that is mostly cat. So did you use a language any cat understands? Or just some gibberish like English?
What gibberish are you talking about!?
Why should that inner kitty of yours understand words? At all? Assuming it is willing to listen to them, those funny sounds dont mean anything to it. Not on a hungry stomach, not when it knows the food in front of it is his by right?
But I told it not to eat rabbit!
Friss keinen Hasen.
I used German. I am sure you understood me perfectly, right?
German? Well, I know a few words, but
Exactly. But! You wanted to tell your inner feline some rather complicated context. And you did so in a language it doesnt really understand. At a time when it was a bit pre-occupied with finally getting a bite to eat. What do you expect is going to happen? Mmmh?
It does exactly as its told? Jubatus asked hopefully. Never mind, I see what you mean. After a pause and a long sigh he continued, I dont have a chance, do I?
I think you do. The catch is, you must start to understand your inner cat, see the world through its eyes, know what it smells and hears, and what all that means to it. And after all that, it is just a simple matter of learning to speak Feline with it.
In other words, I was right the first timeI am screwed.
Dont sell yourself short, Jube! All you need is a bit of training, and you will have a good understanding of the feline sensory package of yours. And then you just have to find out about the feline language of scents and markings, sounds and yowlings, and the body language of ears, whiskers and tails.
Hrmm The cheetah-SCAB considered this for a moment. Yeah, that might work. But once I finish that, what do I do with the next thirty-five years of my life?
Now, really, Jube. Youre the fastest SCAB alive, a technical writer, and a trained space-cat. You seriously think you gonna take years to pick up on what any mere animala real animal, not a full-morph SCABcan learn in weeks?
Flatterer. So whats next on your agenda of torturing me?
For starters: Dont you think it is time to stop running from the battle? Its one you have to fight, sooner or later anyway. And no matter what you might think now. Its one worth fighting.
In the end, recognizing that he had no real alternative, Jubatus acquiesced to the mountain lions terms: Chase a target down, catch it, let Duncan kill it, and finallyfinallyhe could eat. For a time, he could fill the internal vacuum that had been his stomach; was now turning into a monster; and would eventually turn him into a monster. Eventually but not quite yet.
For his part, the cougar-SCAB was well pleased; as difficult as his client was, the progress theyd made was at least as good as anybody could have hoped for. Suddenly, he said, Hush! as urgent as he was quiet.
Jubatus gave his host a puzzled look. Wh- he began, cutting off when Duncan touched his muzzle with a forepaw.
Hush, Duncan repeated, still quiet. You dont want to frighten your lunch away. Over there. So saying, he gestured towards a nearby creek, where a raccoon was fishing for its dinner. Unless you had a different meal in mind? the puma said with a mischievous glint in his eyes. No? Excellent! So get going; if not the raccoon, there are plenty of other available targets. Just pick one, chase it down, and bring it back here.
The cheetahs immediate response was merely a worried look out into the surrounding forest. Youre sure there arent any full-morph SCABs out there.
Other than myself? No.
And all I have to do is choose a target, chase it down and catch it. No need for me to, you know, kill anything.
After you quit stalling, yes. What do you wait for? Get moving!
The cheetah stared at his prey-to-be, then steeled himself, visibly. Yeah, he murmured. Moment of truth. Here goes nothing
With half-mad eyes, the spotted SCAB stalked off towards the raccoon. He was utterly silent at first; alas for him, a loose twig cracked under one paw when he was some twenty meters distant from his prey. The raccoon needed no more warning than that; in an instant, it was fleeing, with Jubatus not far behind it. Duncan observed the cheetahs style with a professional eye. Although he was clearly untrained, he nevertheless had a distinct core of native abilitywait, that tree, would he manage to dodge in ti-
Crack! The impact of Jubatus skull against wood was not so very loud, but it nevertheless caught the pumas attention. By the time Duncan reached him, the spotted cat was muttering polytheistic blasphemies as he gingerly rubbed his head. Fortunately, there was no scent of fresh bloodthe skin had not been broken.
Are you al-
Fuck that noise, the cheetah snarled. Outta my waythat stinking care-bear is dead beef! So saying, he rose to his feetall four of them, Duncan noted with interestand stalked off, purposeful determination in every step. The cheetahs progress was marked by silence for the next minute or so; then two sets of rapid footsteps close together, and the rustling of disturbed foliage; a muffled thud and Shit!; more footsteps, more rustling; and finally a scream of pain, short and abruptly ended.
Suddenly, a cadaver fell to the ground before the pumait was the raccoon, the object of Jubatus hunt, followed closely by him who had thrown it. Here. Satisfied? Or should I maybe do it again?
Well done, Jubatus! No need for a re-run; I shall pick up a snack of my own, as you have earned this one.
Good. Without another word, the cheetah snatched up his prize and started tearing into it.
Duncan nodded, then went off to acquire his own lunch. Maybe another raccoon? It had smelled quite appetizing
About a quarter-hour later, the puma finished cleaning the last of the blood off his face. Then he trotted back to his client. He found the cheetah sprawled atop a large, flat rock surface, soaking up heat and sunlight as if hed been doing it all his life.
Thanks, Duncan, said the spotted cat.
The puma looked at him with a quizzical expression. Mm? Thanks for what, may I ask?
Like you dont know? Jubes tone was light, amused. Salright. You gave me space to recover when my skull made contact with that stump, and thats worth my cutting you some slack. Bringing down the raccoon, that was just icing on the cake.
This was worrisome. Can he truly not remember!? Ah Jubatus it was not I who killed your supper. Rather, you did itand much more competently than I would have expected of you.
The cheetah, only mildly annoyed, rolled his eyes. Yeah, right. Im not ready for the red in tooth and claw thing yet, and you know it.
I thought so myself, until you demonstrated otherwise.
Not funny, Duncan.
The cougar shrugged. Agreed, it is not funny. However, it is truth: You chased down your target, you ki-
I said, thats not funny. Jubatus face corroborated what his scent was telling Duncan: The cheetahs rage and terror were building, with rage in the lead. I didntI cant have killed the damn raccoon! Stop lying to me, goddamn it!
I have not lied to you yet, nor will I ever, was the calm reply. Trust your nose: Do I smell like I am lying?
Wordlessly, Jubatus moved forward to get a closer whiff of his companionwho, for his part, was every bit as wary as he would have been if the cheetah were a natural-born, and rabid, beast. But for all that Jubes own scent reeked of intense fear, nothing untoward did occur. The spotted SCAB merely stood there, transfixed and shivering, trying to grasp what really had occured, the act he couldnt possibly have committed, yet hed done it nonetheless
You did hunt and kill your food, Jubatus. And in so doing, you did not regress to a feral state! Not. At. All. No, you merely took a nap in a comfortable spot, like any sensible cat.
The cheetahs only response was an incoherent, piteous whine. NoI didntcouldnt haveWith an abrupt start, Jubatus staggered towards the place where he had ki- No! Not killed, but caught!the place where hed caught the raccoon, where he had not Aha! There! The very place where hed eaten his ki- meal. The cougar-SCAB was lyinghad to be lyingit must have been Duncan whod killed it. That damned cat was just playing mindgames, messing with his head. But there wasnt even the slightest hint, not even a trace, of the tawny cats spoor on the raccoon Nothing! And considering that hed spent all morning tracking that wretched ghost-cat, he blo- damned well would have found it if it was there wouldnt he..?
Watching the spotted cats frantic search, Duncan thought: Time to dissipate the pressure a bit. Perhaps you cannot appreciate it properly, but allow me to assure you: This was a very good sign! Your actions were controlled, and directed towards a specific target, with little or no collateral damage.
Okay, maybe he killed it ahead of time and let his scent wear off, the cheetah thought. Yeah, thats the ticket! This notion suggested some questions: Where, and how, had the coon really died? Yes; all he needed to do was prove that the damned mountain lion had murdered an inoffensive creature, and then Duncan would eat his scheming lies, as heJubatushadnt, couldnt have
Nose close to the ground, the cheetah retraced his steps. To his increasing terror, they were, indeed, his steps, and his steps alone.
The cougar padded after the spotted cat. Jube, please. Calm down. For once in your life, wont you just look the facts in the eye? In spite of your obsessive and futile pursuit of humanity, you nonetheless possess an admirably high degree of innate feline skill.
Ignore him. Son of a bitch is trying to scam me There! Signs of battle still marked the ground; even the grass was torn up by swift paws. Here he would find confirmation, proof, that the murderer had been the puma, not him. Never him! Yeah, theres the bloodstill fresh on the ground. Shouldnt there be more of it no, never mind. Eyes on the prize, Jube. Find the killers scent. And, sure enough, he found it: His scent. Not the pumas, but his
Really, Jube, you shouldnt worry yourself about these things. While hunting is a quintessentially feline activity, it is also a very human one, too! And its nothing to be concerned on, if it happens under controlled circumstances and is not taken to extremes. Feline or human, hunters dontat least not usuallykill everything in sight. Quite often they dont even take more than they can comfortably carry away and eat. And unsurprisingly, us cats never eat more than we can chew, and hardly ever kill more than we need. And guess what? You didnt, either!
Feverishly, the cheetah paced the ground, searching, not willing to listen to the mountain lions deceptively calm words. There had to be some other scentnot his ownnot the scent of his ki- the damned raccoon
It was a clean kill, Jube. Nothing more; nothing less. Andjust one.
The pumas client emitted a queer, strangled noise: Hhkhooaaawwwwrrr It was impossible, inconceivable! The puma had done it, so there had to be physical evidence of that other cats involvement!
Given the evidence at hand, I may confidently predict a totally favorable outcome: Youre going to be an excellent ca-
The cheetah drowned out the final word with a tormented screamNhaiyaaarrrhkhssnhss!as he spun about to run, blindly, away from himself, with every bit of the speed for which his natural-born cousins were noted.
Looking at the receding dust-cloud which marked his clients retreat, Duncan spoke to the empty air: Youll thank me for it later. Or at least, I hope so And with a deep sigh, the cougar-SCAB stepped forth to follow in his clients footsteps.
There was no difficulty at all in re-tracing the cheetahs path; quite apart from the lingering stench of terror hed left in his spoor, Jubatus pawprints were utterly obvious, as were all the disturbed and broken plants he had trampled over in his headlong flight. As well, his trajectory was as close to a Euclidian line as the terrain would allowfurther proof that the spotted cat had had no true destination in mind when he fled.
The puma was in no particular hurry. Given the speed at which the cheetah had left the place of his first killlike a cat out of hellhe wouldnt have the slightest chance of keeping up with his client in the first place. Not that it really mattered; they were deep enough inside the virtual cage that the cheetah would run out of steam well before he reached the lethal boundary. As with all feline kind, they both were good for short, extreme bursts of activity
No; for now, it was best to let things run their natural course. With him around, the cheetah was hardly in danger from any local predators; as well, he knew that his client would need some time to recover his senses. There was little or no chance that the spotted cat could evade him, Duncan, for more than a few hours. And given the recent exhibition of hunting skill, Duncan judged that mindless panic or no, the spotted cat would be amply capable of surviving all on its own.
In the end, it took perhaps twenty minutes for Duncan to catch up to the spotted SCABwho was lying inertly under a fallen log, curled in on himself, as if asleep or dead. The cougar paused: If his client had suffered permanent mental damage in his recent breakdown, there was no telling how he might react to Duncan. Especially if he wasnt expecting such a guest
Backing off to a comfortable distance, the wildcat spoke one word: Jube?
In response to this sound, the cheetahs head shot up and his ears swiveled to zero in on its source. Goodnot dead or wounded, the puma thought. Having located the foreign entity that had disturbed his rest, the cheetah then gave a mighty yawn and rose up to stretch himself like taffy. Hmmm not concerned or hostile? Interesting, the counselor-SCAB thought. The cheetahs next act: Grooming his own furhis technique was somewhat unorthodox, but no less effective for all thatfollowed by another good stretch. Only then did the cheetah approach Duncan, stepping calmly and confidently, as if he hadnt a care in the world.
With a politely interrogative Hrrm?, Jubatus circled the puma, curiously cocking his head this way and that, the better to observe this novel addition to the world around him.
How are you doing, Jubatus? the cougar asked.
Hearing those words, the other SCAB froze for a moment, blinking in surprise. Then he replied, in a remarkably accurate facsimile of Duncans voice, How are you doing?
The puma-SCAB grinned. I am d-
How are you doing? I am. How are. You doing? How-ow-ow-ow-waahrrr. Oooooh? Doing! Do-oo-ee! Howaar-ro-oo-oo-ooo? At this point the cheetah lost all interest in Duncanor perhaps it was merely that the cats attention had been caught by something shiny. It trotted off, continuing to shuffle and recombine the phonemes of speech like a toddler playing with brightly-colored blocks: I am! Ayyam! Ayyamoo! Ayamayamoo! Ay-ay-ay ha-why-ay-ay!
Oh. And so does the truth come out. Duncan sighed and nodded to himself. Breaking strain reached and exceeded, he mused sadly. Now to re-assemble the pieces, so that the real healing may begin
It did not take long to catch up with the spotted cat. Jubatus had found a half-buried boulder, seven meters across if it was a hands breadth; hed walked up one sloping side and settled himself atop it, observing his surroundings like an emperor in a sedan chair. Of course he saw the puma approaching his perch; fortunately, his reaction was one of simple curiousity, not fear or anger. Thanks to Duncans intimate familiarity with feline psychology, he knew exactly what was going through his clients quizzically-canted head: What is this thing? It looks something like me, except it hasnt any spots of its own! And see how thick it isplenty of power in those brawny limbs, no doubtbut also very clumsy, easy to avoid.
Then the cougar jumped onto the boulder as well, not even bothering to walk up the low side. The cheetah greeted him with an alarmed hiss; Duncan sat down quickly, waiting. It was not long until curiosity won out over caution. Although evidently prepared to dash away at any significant sign of trouble, the spotted cat approached him for a better look and sniff, drawn by the sense of odd familiarity, seemingly from a life past, just a few minutes ago
Watching carefully for any offensive move from the tawny cat, the cheetah stepped closer, sampling the air for the other ones scent. Duncan let him get closer, fully aware of the workings of the spotted cats mind. Had it really been less than an hour ago that hed persuaded Jube to give him a massage, thus putting the cheetahs spoor all over his own fur? Yes, it hadand he was glad hed done it. The next moments would be crucial: Would the cheetah recognize its own scent?
Yes, the spotted cats infinitely expressive face seemed to say, the scent is familiar. In fact, its my own scent! But how, and when, did it get on that other cats fur? It must have been put there recently
That was Duncans cue to give the spotted cat a proper feline greeting: He rubbed his muzzle against the other one, finishing off with an reassuring lickwhich was returned in kind.
Well, never mind, the cheetah was thinking (or so Duncan percieved). With us both sharing the same scent, the other one should be safe. Maybe he lost his spots because hes been ill? At least he looks healthy now. Whatever; its sunny, and this is an excellent place for a lookout or an afternoon nap.
With all that settled, the cheetah just made itself comfortable again and snoozed off.
Now that went awfully well, Duncan thought, remembering another clienta leopardwho had been a lot more suspicious than even Jube, and unfortunately had gone feral well before he had a chance to share scents. That had been quite a task, gaining the trust and confidence of a suddenly-feral beast. Worse, leopards didnt form hunting coalitions; for the first days it had been difficult enough to just get close enough to watch the other cat, without it either running away or going for his throat. No, the puma mused, this is going much better.
At this point, the cheetah had clearly accepted him as part of their coalition, just like that. More: He was living in the here-and-now, not overly worried with what ifs and hows, nor prone to deep contemplation of reasons and whyscertainly not while there was more than just half a chance for a nice nap on a sunny day with a full stomach.
Now Duncan settled down, draping himself over a conveniently placed sunny spotpurely for professional reasons, namely, to watch over his client; not, as you might think, for catching forty winks or soaking up any remaining sunshine. No, the pumas eyes were half-closed, but his active ears zeroed in on the slightest sound, be it from his client or the surrounding, twitching with attention.
But nothing happened
With the two cats rooted to their spots, hardly moving a tails end, life on the clearing resumed itself. While the predators were not out of sight, they were obviously out of the minds of those who would have been wiser to stay undercover. The first such arrivals were a pair of squirrels; Duncan heard them running down a tree, clearly within the cheetahs line of sight. If his questing ears were any indication, he, too, had become aware of them. Now the spotted cat rose up on its front paws, its tail twitching with excitement, as it watched the frolicking tree ratsjust like any normal cat watching mice. Excellent! Duncan thought. He sees the prey and he isnt freaking out over it. Surely, it wont be long before he goes shopping for his dinner!
Only he didnt. Nothing more happened. Having gotten a good look, the spotted cat settled down again, napping, waiting, biding its time.
And more prey showed up. Not just small animals like mice, a snake, or the odd bird looking for seeds in the high grass; but also a fox, a few turkeys, a pheasant, a pair of raccoons. In each and every case, the cheetah spotted them shortly after the cougar (who had, after all, spent the past few decades living outdoors)but after a short inspection, it settled back down again, killing time instead of its prey.
Then a hare made a daring dash over the clearing. That got the cheetahs attention but not much else, alas. Quite curious, that; the hares fast movement tugged insistently at Duncans hunting instincthe could hardly restrain himself to sit tightso how could a feral Jube possibly resist?
Dont spoil this; it wont be conclusive if he just joins the hunt because he was following your s. Hes got to go hunting on his own, not just run after you.
The minutes dragged by, soon becoming hours. From the twitching of its tail, and the indignant quiver of its whiskers, it was more than obvious to Duncan that the cheetah was becoming more and more annoyed while lounging on the boulder, waiting.
Waiting, but waiting for what? Duncan thought, getting exasperated by all that waiting for nothing to happen. Nothing at all! What is it waiting for!? What am I missing here? Clearly the cheetah is expecting something, not just napping the day away, but whatever he expects is not happening and he must be hungry.
I mean, even I have worked up an appetite by now and Jube sure would have been ready to eat shoe-soles by now, if not gnaw off his own tail.
It was near dusk when a doe and her fawn walked into the clearing. The two cats on the boulder were well concealed by the lengthening shadows, their scent blown the other way by the evening breeze.
It was clear that the spotted cat had seen them. Not only did it get up, but the cheetah was actually prancing back and forth, looking forward to something.
Come on, dinners ready! thought the puma. Get up, get on with it. What are you waiting for?
Unsuspecting, the two deer slowly made their way onto the clearing. Duncan drooled with anticipation of the upcoming meal. The spotted cat had surely seen them; he had to be watching their every move, checking the darkening forest for more deer to step out. As for the cervine entrées already present, it should be only moments before they were in optimal hunting distance, too far away from the trees behind them to have any hope of reaching their sheltering embrace in time. The hunt would be on, just a split second away Now!
Which was, to all appearances, the cheetahs cue to lay down and roll on its back.
Vexed by the strange behavior of his feral client, Duncan settled back as well. Ok, I am not getting it. What is the problem, here? By now the whole damn menu has shown up, and I got myself a picky eater for a client. Greatnot!
An exasperated Duncan swished his tail; nor was he the only one to do so. It was quite clear that the cheetah was not happy with the circumstances, either. It was annoyed, and intently looking out for something. Its irritation showed with every impatient movement of its ears, every frustrated growl. Chattering in a low voice to itself to vent its annoyance with what?
Exactly the question: Whatever can he be waiting for!? What am I not seeing? Or maybe what is it that I see, but the cheetah doesnt? He sure is expecting something. But what? The pizza guy?
Hold that thought. Could it
What if he really at least sort of Well, probably not literally, certainly not literally given the way he has been fuzzing about not wanting to hurt, especially not to eat someone!
But that would mean
Yes, indeed: The cheetah was waiting for something. More precisely, he awaited the coming of someoneanyoneto bring him food. Preferably on a platter, with knives and forks and candlelight and classical music and whatever else.
And there was only one possible explanation for it Dumbstruck, Duncan looked at the spotted cat, hardly able to keep from laughing his tail off, certainly not able to keep from bursting out: I knew it! I knew it! You are an overgrown housecat, Jubecompletely, happily and thoroughly domesticated!
For his own part, Jubatus didnt deign to favor the silly catnow rolling on the ground, chirping and chattering with feline laughterwith any sort of response. He had a much more serious matter to worry on: For the first time ever, his meal was not showing up, as was right and proper.
Feigning ignorance of the pumas tomfoolery, but with the nagging feeling that the spotless cat was laughing at his expense, the cheetah continued to stare into the darkening forest, just beyond the clearing.
Surely his dinner would show up, just as it always had before. He knew it would. He just had to wait a bit longer.