Ka-Shiwa

 

Ka-Shiwa
by Melanie Brown
Copyright  © 2016 Melanie Brown

Chris thought he knew what wanted from the alien world.


This story is a sequel to Ka-Pawli. It's not a Part 2. I recommend reading Ka-Pawli first if you haven't yet. --Ed

 


 

“We’re down,” said the pilot quietly. She then added, “All engines shutdown.”

In a joking tone, Captain Khurana said, “Nobody roll any windows down. The atmosphere is lethal.”

“No kidding,” said Doctor Eugene Marcus as he checked the seals on his environment suit. He and I had worn our environment suits except gloves and helmet, strapped into our seats during the whole descent. We wanted to be ready to go as soon as the captain gave us the word.

Dr. Marcus looked over at me said, “About suited up, Chris?” We weren’t wasting any time in getting outside. We didn’t want the natives to get antsy on us.

I nodded and said, “Yes, sir!” Not sure how well I was succeeding, but I tried to hide the fact that I was nervous as hell. We’re the second team to land on this planet. It’s only the second planet that life has so far been discovered on.

The excitement created by the return of FTL-15 was extreme to say the least. Not just life, but sentient life discovered on another world! A world, whose environment was hostile to earth creatures, but had none-the-less evolved a dominant species that had language, made tools and built structures.

There was disappointment among the population at large and not just the sociologists that this new species did not live peacefully with neighboring groups. There was also disappointment in the crew of FTL-15 for not bringing a member of the species back to earth so we could learn from them. Many thought it was unfair, but the Captain of FTL-15, Joyce Franks, was reprimanded and demoted for not forcing the former crewmember who was converted to one of the aliens, to return.

We were going to correct that error with this trip.

As the shields slid down the window slits, the pilot peered through and said, “Looks like we stirred up the natives. I think the alternate landing coordinates might have been a better choice, Captain.”

“Not your call,” said Captain Khurana. Looking back at Dr. Marcus and me he said, “You’re taking a security team, right?”

“Already suited up,” said Dr. Marcus. “They’re below ready to exit as soon as you order the platform lowered.”

I looked out the nearest view port. We were very close to a native village. I guess I should say *the* native village as we only really know of this one in particular. Dozens were jumping around excitedly and pointing at us. Several of what I assumed to be large males mounted on some weird looking two-legged animals aimed nasty looking crossbows at us as they pushed the natives back.

“Are we sure these guys are friendly?” I said watching the natives nervously.

The captain said, “They didn’t harm the first science team.”

Dr. Marcus said, “We’ll take it slow and easy. FTL-15 reported the sentient creatures here are peaceful and curious. They only seem to have trouble with other groups of natives. We’ll have to convey that we’re friendly.”

I smirked and said, “Two security guys with rifles doesn’t seem too friendly to me.”

Looking annoyed, Captain Khurana said, “Stow it Mathers. We’ve been over your mission a hundred times before we boarded the landing shuttle. Make contact with the crewman of FTL-15 that stayed behind. Newman, right?” Dr. Marcus nodded. The captain continued, “We want to secure more samples of local plant and animal life as well as some of their cultural artifacts. Anything from their own history. And lastly Mathers, your own personal mission.”

I nodded grimly. We all knew what to say and do. It was one thing to talk about it while in orbit. It’s quite another when you’re looking out at these creatures of an alien world.

As soon as I snapped my helmet into place, the pilot said, “Comm check.” I gave her a thumbs up and she nodded.

“EVA team ready,” said the pilot to Captain Khurana.

Captain Khurana said, “Lower platform.” I followed Dr. Marcus to the lower level of the lander. The security team was already on the surface. The security team was ordered to hang back so we didn’t give the natives the wrong idea. They had seen firsthand what our rifles would do.

Dr. Marcus looked over at me as we started to descend the ramp to the surface. He said, “Slow down your breathing, boy. You’re going to hyperventilate.”

I took a deep breath and tried to relax. From the ramp, I looked back over at the natives. They were gathered in a line in front of one of their odd, conical shaped buildings. Several large natives were trying to herd them back away from us.

I got dizzy and almost fell over as my foot made contact with the planet’s surface. Oh my God! I’m here! I’m actually standing on an alien planet! Dr. Marcus caught my arm as I teetered a bit.

“You okay?” asked Dr. Marcus over the comm-link.

I gave him a thumbs up and said, “I’m okay. I’m okay.”

My breathing must have been loud enough to trigger the comm-link as we approached the village.

Dr. Marcus punched my arm and said, “I’m going to turn your oxygen off if you don’t slow down your breathing!”

I mumbled, “Sorry.” All the natives were staring at us. I noticed one in particular, standing in front of all of them. If I had to guess she was a female. Two child creatures stood close to her. I said, “Look at that female out front. Dollars to donuts she’s pregnant.”

Dr. Marcus said, “If that’s true, you’d think they’d protect her better than that.”

As we got closer, Dr. Marcus raised his arms and opened his hands palms towards the natives. Reports from FTL-15 said the natives, or “komali” as they call themselves recognize the gesture as one of peace.

Still holding his arms up, Dr. Marcus said, “Greetings komali. We are humans from the planet Earth. We come in peace.” From the faces of the komali present, I didn’t think any of them understood a word he said. We had our microphones turned on so we could hear anything the natives might say.

The female we had taken special notice of looked like she was struggling to speak. Finally, in a somewhat halted speech, she said, “We know who you are, hooman. Why are you here and how soon can you leave?”

Dr. Marcus smiled and said, “My name is Dr. Marcus and this excited fellow next to me is Chris Mathers. We wish to speak to one of you who used to have the name Newman. Does anyone know Newman?”

The female laughed and showed a row of sharp teeth. She said, “I am Newman.”

Dr. Marcus stepped closer. Several males snapped their crossbows to aim at him. Still holding his arms up, he said, “So it’s true? You were transformed into a native?”

Newman said, “Yes. It’s true. My name is now Ka-Pawli. Now get back on your boat and return to your world.”

Narrowing his brows, Dr. Marcus said, “Ka… Ka-Pawli?”

In what had to be a frown, Newman said, “Not caca paulie. Are you trying to insult me?”

His face red, Dr. Marcus said, “No. No, of course not. Newm... Ka-Pawli. We are here to learn about you and your people! We’re a science ship.”

Ka-Pawli picked up her youngest child and said, “I’m not going back with you. If that was your goal, you wasted a trip.”

Looking insulted, Dr. Marcus said, “Of course not!”

I took a step forward, sucked in my breath and said, “No. I will go back after you transform me.”

*          *          *

Ka-Pawli just blinked at me a couple of times. Finally she said, “Transform you? To komali?”

I nodded and said, “Yes. I’m asking that you help to make me a komali.”

Ka-Pawli shook her head. She said something in the komali language to the elder male behind her. The elder male shook his head and said something in an angry tone. In English, she said, “My father says absolutely not for any number of reasons. To do so destroys a life-giver plant which are very rare and valuable to us. You don’t become komali just on a whim. And this is particularly important, if you become komali, you can’t return to Earth for all the same reasons I stayed here. And the life-giver won’t do anything but provide a pleasant feeling if there’s nothing wrong with you.”

I nodded again and said, “I understand all that. I watched the recordings of the botched attempt to capture you as well as when the crew of FTL-15 helped save your mate’s life. I understand your reasons to stay. It would have been a hard, lonely life for you back on Earth. But we came prepared to make a deal. We have two life-givers on our ship. One is a gift to your village. The other I will use to transform to komali. We also mapped the locations of several dozen life-givers that are not near any other villages.”

Ka-Pawli said, “That is a generous offer as we still have not replaced the life-giver that was destroyed saving my life. But I still don’t understand, hooman, why you would want to become one of us. While I’m very happy now, I didn’t choose this life and if I had a choice, would not have done so. My heart still aches on occasion for my beautiful home city of Camden, New Jersey.”

I smiled at Ka-Pawli as she held her child. I said, “I plan to return to my home. I would be invaluable to science.”

Giving me an odd look, Ka-Pawli said, “Really? You’d give up your life to become a different species just to be poked and prodded and sampled and treated as a freak for the rest of your life? All in the name of science?”

I laughed and said, “Yes. Because I’d at least have a life. I have advanced cancer. It’s one of the few remaining incurable cancers. I’m dying. I’m only twenty-five years old and I’ll be dead within six months. If I’m not transformed to komali, I will not live to see Earth again. I might be a freak, but I’d be a living freak.”

“What does your family think of this,” asked Ka-Pawli.

I sighed and said, “I don’t have a family anymore. My parents died five years ago during re-entry.”

Ka-Pawli turned to speak to the native she called her father. As she spoke, the expression on the elder male softened somewhat. He spoke to her for several minutes. She then nodded and turned back to me. She said, “Father expresses his sadness at your suffering. He said the life-giver should detect this sickness inside you and try to save you at its own expense.”

I took a step closer to Ka-Pawli and was instantly greeted again by raised weapons. I said, “Does that mean you will help me?”

Ka-Pawli looked at me sadly and said, “Yes. We will help you become komali. My father can’t just stand by and let you die. I told my father that your illness will bring you great pain and suffering before it finally kills you. He also thanks the hoomans for the gift of a new life-giver.”

I wanted to hug her. I said, “Thank you! You don’t know how…”

Raising her hand to stop me, Ka-Pawli said, “Against my father’s better judgment, he will allow you to return with your boat. You confirmed my father’s fears. I accepted my father’s wisdom and I’m so much happier for it.” Exposing a row of white, sharp teeth she smiled at her child and kissed it. “I’d never be this happy if I had returned to Earth as the lone member of my people.”

“I can appreciate your position,” I said watching her and her child interact. “They only allowed me to come and ask to be transformed on the condition that I return to Earth and make myself available for research. I know it’ll be a self-imposed exile from everything I know. But I can still read and watch movies. They’ll let me outside once in a while.”

Ka-Pawli gave me a knowing look and said, “Will they? You sure about that? I never dreamed my own captain would toss a net over me and try to force me onto the boat. I won’t try to stop you, but just know, as I found out. Once you are no longer hooman, you’re just another animal.”

I straightened my shoulders and said, “I know. I’m ready for that. Especially considering the alternative.”

After a pause, Ka-Pawli smiled and said, “Hey. Let’s don’t just stand here all day. Let me give you and Dr. Marcus the grand tour. Make sure your cameras are turned on.” She then said something in the native’s language. The males lowered their weapons and we were suddenly surrounded by children.

As she showed us her village, one large male stayed close to her and always kept a suspicious eye on Dr. Marcus and myself. She introduced him as her mate, Ra-Mali. She also formally introduced her father and a few of her sisters.

“As you’ll be whisked back to Earth as soon as your transformation and education is over, you really won’t get to experience what going from male to female really feels like,” said Ka-Pawli. We stopped our tour just outside the main community building that also served as a church. “Becoming a completely new species was mind boggling enough as it was. But to also be a female in a very male dominated culture… that took some getting used to.”

Standing in the shade from the brightly colored leaves of the very old and tall tree in the courtyard of the church building, I said, “I was hoping I could spend a couple of weeks here as a komali so I could get a feel for your culture. No amount of observing from the outside will ever tell us as much as actually living it.”

Sighing, Ka-Pawli said, “We don’t mean to be rude, but we want you all to leave as soon as possible. You don’t belong here. You’re disruptive. You want to explore? Fine. Just do it away from people. Any people.”

I spread my arms and said, “How can you deny, and keep me from the culture that I’ll become a member of?”

Ka-Pawli looked a bit angry as she said, “Because you’re not. When I first transformed, I wanted to stay with the hoomans. I thought I could go back and be… well a hero of sorts. Become a bridge between cultures. But when I realized how alone I’d be, I wanted to remain here. With my own kind. I’m as much komali as if a komali woman had given me birth. You will always be standing on the outside.”

“I do want to be a part of your society!” I exclaimed. “I want to become komali in spirit as well as body. They can study me and leave you alone.”

Ka-Pawli laughed. She said, “I think they will never leave us alone, now that they know we’re here.” She paused a moment as she looked at both Dr. Marcus and me as we stood there in our environment suits. She said, “It’s too bad you can’t try our food, but it’s probably poisonous to you.”

Dr. Marcus said, “I truly wish I could try it. When do you think your father will want to do the transformation on Chris? I’m going to record every second of it and if we’re to wait too much longer, we should probably go recharge our suits.”

Ka-Pawli shook her head. She said, “No. You will not record it. Only Chris will remain here. You and your soldiers must return to your boat. You can then retrieve him after he’s done.”

Dr. Marcus looked extremely frustrated. He said, “Don’t you understand? This is an incredible process! It must be documented!”

Looking stern, Ka-Pawli said, “Father will never permit it. Leave Chris here and return to your boat, or all of you leave.”

Dr. Marcus said, “FTL-15 took a life-giver back to Earth. We put a terminally ill volunteer in the folds of the plant.” Looking disgusted, he continued, “What happened next was horrifying. The volunteer’s flesh dissolved and the plant disintegrated almost instantly. That’s why we need to document what happens here.”

Ka-Pawli leaned in close to Dr. Marcus and spoke with a sound very much like a sneer. She said, “You still don’t get it do you? You can’t take the life-givers back to Earth and use them there. The plants have to intertwine with the other native plants and life here. That’s where it draws its energy! You can’t recreate this biome on Earth. I hope you didn’t bring poor Chris here in hopes of doing that.”

Dr. Marcus said, “No. No, of course not. We were hoping that maybe we could learn to use the life-giver without the transformations. The value of such a plant would be astronomical back on Earth. We could…”

“No!” shouted Ka-Pawli. “That is enough. Hoomans are not welcome here any longer. Do not return. I like Chris. We will help him. You, Dr. Marcus I don’t like. I will not help you rape this planet. Now. Return to your boat so we can prepare Chris for his… um… journey.”

*          *          *

I was shaking terribly with both fear and anticipation. Fear that I might die right here and now. Fear of becoming what to human beings are basically monsters; unnatural creatures. Anticipation of ridding myself of the cancer killing me. And yes, anticipation in becoming a sentient being from another world.

I stood there, the only human being, in the king’s courtyard, surrounded by a dozen or so members of an alien species. The king and Ka-Pawli of course, Ra-Mali, a sister named Ka-Nawa, as well as a half dozen other of her sisters. The life-giver was layed out on the purple grass before me. I watched in fascination as its tendrils instantly began to intertwine through the grass.

Ka-Pawli walked up to me and said, “Last chance to back out. I can’t speak for your crew, but no one here will think less of you if you back out now.”

I took a deep breath and said, “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

Ka-Pawli smiled and said, “Enjoy that last deep breath of oxygen. You will never breathe it again. The first step is going to be horrendously painful for you. It has nothing to do with the transformation but we can’t help it. You will need to take off your environment suit as well as removal of your skivvies. In those few seconds, your lungs will feel to be on fire. Your eyes will feel like someone is sticking a knife into them. Humans can’t exist in this toxic atmosphere. Basically Chris, you are going to be in one big world of shit.”

I swallowed hard. I did not like what I was going to have to face. I started to unlatch my helmet. I stopped and looked curiously at Ka-Pawli. I said, “Your speech pattern is different. You’re not talking in a stilted, style of speech.”

Ka-Pawli laughed and said, “That’s for the tourists. You’re about to be family. Take a deep breath, take your helmet off and work quickly to get out of that suit.”

I furrowed my brown and said, “Isn’t there going to be a ceremony of some kind?”

After Ka-Pawli translated, Ka-Nawa said with a smirk, “It’s not like we do this every day. After Ka-Pawli, I didn’t think we’d ever do this again. So no. No fanfare or ceremony. Just lie down and kiss your hooman butt good-bye.”

Ka-Pawli laughed and said, “I did mention to father that, instead of telling the humans to beat it, we should open a retirement home here for Earthers.” Ka-Pawli quickly translated the rest of our conversation.

Ra-Nala frowned and said, “I told you that’s a bad idea! I can’t keep up with the daughters I already have!”

Ka-Nawa and Ka-Pawli laughed. Ka-Pawli looked at me and said, “Okay. Let’s get this over with. Deep breath and strip fast!”

I nodded. I took a deep breath and gave my helmet a twist. There was a hiss as the thicker and more toxic and very warm air of the planet rushed to fill the suit. I held my breath as I started unzipping the suit. My eyes started burning.

I seemed to be moving in slow motion as I raced to remove the suit. I couldn’t pull my head through the opening. I was caught on something. Ka-Pawli stepped beside me and unsnapped a catch I’d forgotten about. Holding my breath for so long, my lungs felt as if they were about to explode. I finally pulled my arms from the sleeves and stepped out of the boots.

The acids in the grass burned my naked feet. I yelled, “Shit!” I immediately spat up blood. Ka-Pawli and Ka-Nawa pulled my arms to bring me to the life-giver.

Ka-Pawli said, “Lay down now! Don’t fight it! Just relax.”

Relax my ass! I felt like I was on fire. As I lay on the life-giver, I felt thousands of tiny pin-pricks on my skin. And then an inner peace fell over me. I looked up at Ka-Pawli, my eyes still burning and smiled at her. I then passed out.

*          *          *

I slowly opened my eyes. My vision was blurry but I could make out the shapes of Ka-Pawli and Ka-Nawa bending over me. Above me was a slowly brightening morning sky. The process had taken most of the night it seems. All the sounds seemed muffled. There was an odd buzzing on my forehead. I drifted off again.

I was suddenly, violently brought awake. I gasped a lungful of air and my body shook. I closed my eyes and just laid there for a few moments. As I slowly re-opened my eyes, I heard Ka-Nawa as she said, “Her education is complete, my father.” Incredible! I was able to understand her native language.

I raised myself up on one elbow and looked around. Ka-Pawli was grinning at me. She said, “Welcome to komali, my sister.”

Ra-Nala, her father looked down at me and smiled. He said firmly, “Stand, my child.”

I just lay there for a few moments, unsure of how to stand. This new body felt so different.

One of the other girls said, “Better do as father says.” She giggled.

On wobbly legs I slowly stood up and took an unsure step towards the king. He smiled at me and said, “Welcome. Welcome my newest daughter to your komali family. Even though you plan to leave our world, you will forever be komali and my daughter. Your name shall be Ka-Shiwa.”

I smiled nervously and said, “Thank you… um… father. I am very grateful for your help.”

Ra-Nala laughed and said, “One can never have too many daughters! Especially at the rate I’m losing them! Two will be mated this week!” Two girls behind me laughed.

I stood there and studied my four fingered hand. I felt so weird. My color perception was completely different. Every square inch of my new body felt alien, but so natural at the same time.

Ka-Pawli smiled at me. She said, “Don’t worry. You’ll quickly get used to your new body. By the end of the day, you won’t even remember what it was like to be human. And, father has some good news for you.”

Ra-Nala said, “Oh yes. I have decided that my daughter should know her roots before she leaves us forever. I know it’s not long, but I will let you stay for thirty days… our days so you may learn as much as possible about your new culture and who you are now.”

I smiled, and realizing that I was showing a row of sharp, white teeth. I said, “Thank you father. I’ll let Dr. Marcus know when he returns this morning to see the new me.”

Ra-Nala’s face darkened as he said, “I do not trust that hooman. But, unlike your sister, you at least are aware that you will be placed in a special cage in the cargo hold of their boat. I don’t like it, but it is your choice.”

Ka-Pawli folded her arms and frowned. She said, “You didn’t give me a choice. You just plain old forbid me of returning.”

My new father shrugged and said, “We didn’t have an agreement with you as we do with your sister. I don’t approve. I’d prefer Ka-Shiwa stay with us and provide me with more grandchildren.”

“You’re blushing,” laughed Ka-Nawa.

My cheeks felt warm. I said, “Komali can blush?”

Her words dripping with a bit of sarcasm, Ka-Pawli said, “Yes. Us barbaric space alien monsters can blush.”

Feeling my face get even warmer I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. I only meant…”

Ka-Pawli laughed as she interrupted. She said, “I was teasing. Don’t get a komang up your butt. Come on. Let’s find something for you to wear. Unless you want males drooling over you.”

Ra-Mali who had been silent this whole time said, “Trust me. They will anyway. The life-givers seem to create the most beautiful females ever.”

*          *          *

A smiling Dr. Marcus walked up to me and I saw his mouth moving but I couldn’t hear anything. I pointed at my ear and said, “What?”

Raising a hand in a gesture to indicate he understood, Dr. Marcus pressed a button the sleeve console of his suit. He said again, “Is that really you in there, Chris?”

I smiled and said, “Yes, it is.” I was out with Ka-Nawa who was showing me how to dig konokka berries under some trees just outside the city. I had managed to dig out three so far.

I rotated around as if I was modeling clothes and said, “What do you think?”

Dr. Marcus grinned and said, “I think it’s absolutely amazing. You look no different from any of the native born young females in the village.”

I held up one of the berries I’d dug up and said, “I’m learning firsthand the culture of the komali. We’re a lot deeper than you hoomans give us credit for.” I had discovered that trying to say certain English words from the komali vocal cords were next to impossible. “Father has granted me thirty days to learn as much as possible before I leave.”

Dr. Marcus shook his head and said, “That’s in insanely short time to learn a culture, but I guess we’ll take what we can get.”

He paused a moment and then looked at me with his head cocked to one side. He said, “You said ‘we’. Have you separated from your human roots so quickly?”

I spread my arms out and laughed. I said, “Well, look! I look nothing like you anymore. The rest of the crew who are exploring the area already treat me differently. I can’t help but switch sides.”

Looking me up and down, Dr. Marcus said, “What’s with the knife? I thought komali were peaceful with the females dependent on the males for protection?”

I pulled the long, curved blade from his sheath attached to the harness of my clothes and held it up. I said, “See? Until now, you never asked. You just assumed things. While we do count on the males to protect our city, this is a very dangerous world, Dr. Marcus. At any moment, any of us could be attacked by some vicious animal, plant or even komali from other cities. We have to protect ourselves. Plus, the knife also represents a rite of passage to adulthood.”

Dr. Marcus looked at me curiously. He said, “You’re considered adult? Even to my human eyes you seem to be a juvenile.”

I shrugged and said, “Apparently, if you’re old enough to breed, you’re considered adult in this culture.”

“Maturity doesn’t count?” asked Dr. Marcus.

“Hey, I’m new here myself,” I said. “I suggest you go to the community center and talk to the priest. Stop acting like we’re one step removed from animals. We’re a complex society. The priest shapes that community.”

Dr. Marcus smiled and said, “Actually, having a chat with the priest is on my list for today. However, I’ll need you or Ka-Pawli as interpreter.”

Nodding, I said, “True. I’ll be through here soon. I’ll help you then.”

With a wave, Dr. Marcus bade good-bye and walked the path back to the city.

Ka-Nawa said, “What did the hooman want? And he should have a hunter protecting him. It’s dangerous to be alone, even this close to the city.”

I laughed and said, “Humans think they’re indestructible. They seem to have a belief they are somehow exempt from death. Maybe that’s what gives them the chutzpah to travel among the stars?”

Ka-Nawa shrugged and said, “I just thought that was just insanity at work.”

*          *          *

I awoke and stretched. I looked out the window at another beautiful morning. I still haven’t got used to the copper sky. I also still marvel that the air that smells so sweet to me is a deadly poison on Earth.

Below me, I heard the sound of crunching grass and rocks. I looked down to see one of the young males of the city entering Father’s courtyard. He looked up at me and smiled.

He waved and said brightly, “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t? I’m glad to see you’re awake, since I wanted to get an early start. Ra-Mali told me to take you on a little outing this morning to show you some of the wonders of our… well, now your, world. There’s a great spot up along the kolata mountain ridge. But the view is best before mid-morning light. Why are you still in your window? Come on, let’s go!”

I shook my head and laughed. I said, “I can’t leave without my father’s permission. And, who did you say you were?”

Looking disappointed, the male said, “You don’t know me? I’m none other than Ra-Pala! Everyone in the city knows me! Ra-Mali is my personal trainer. Surely you’ve seen me around. I just won the cross-bow contest.” He thumped his chest and said, “I’m going to be the greatest hunter the city has ever seen!”

I grinned at him. I leaned out the window and said, “It’s nice to finally meet a humble male for once.”

Ra-Pala wrinkled up his nose and said, “I don’t know what you mean. Anyway, let’s go!”

I said, “I need to ask my fath…”

Father called from the next room, “If it’ll cut down the noise, you have my permission to go.”

I buckled my harness on and said, “Thank you Father! I’ll be back soon.”

I’m not sure what Father said, but it sounded like “Gath!” and then he started snoring. I giggled to myself and ran down the ramp to the bottom floor.

When I exited out onto the courtyard, Ra-Pala stood there, arms folded and tapping one foot. “By the gods, woman! How long does it take you to come down? The day is half over. Come. I have my kolima saddled for two.”

Grinning, I followed Ra-Pala around to the front of the house. Like most young males, he was an arrogant ass. But he was kinda cute actually.

“What’s so funny?” demanded Ra-Pala as I saw his kolima tethered to a post outside my father’s house.

I shouldn’t have laughed, but I couldn’t help but find it funny that his kolima was decked out in full battle armor. It was mostly a light cloth and thin leather. Most people who have one, usually just trot around on their animals with just a saddle if that much.

I said, “I’m sorry. I just didn’t know you were expecting trouble.”

Not catching my subtle sarcasm, Ra-Pala grinned at me and said, “The best hunters are always expecting trouble!” He then jumped up into his saddle. Then he held out his hand to me to help me up.

I took his hand and was surprised at his strength as he lifted me up onto his kolima. The extra weight made the animal shift a bit on its two long legs.

Ra-Pala turned around in his saddle and said, “Feel free to put your arms around my waist to hold on. The ride can get pretty rough. However, don’t go getting any ideas. I already have ten females from the city’s finest families vying for my attention.”

Smirking, I said, “I’ll let Father know that the king’s family isn’t one of the finest in the city.”

He blushed several deep shades and said, “Tha… that’s not what I meant. The king’s family is like the highest family of course! I didn’t mean to say anything against the king!” He paused for a moment and then said, “You won’t say anything, will you?”

I shrugged and said, “Maybe. Depends on my mood later.”

Forcing a smile, Ra-Pala said, “Your mood will be wonderful later!” He gave his kolima a slight kick in the flanks and off we went.

We took a little traveled trail behind the city. It wound up into the mountains. It was a gorgeous trail. We passed over small streams and rode past ponds of various sizes. I guess we were on a trail used mainly by hunters. I wished I had a camera with me as we passed some of the most splendid examples of wildlife I’d seen yet.

Ra-Pala turned out to be a great tour guide. He knew the names of most of the animals we stirred up and a great deal of the plants.

As we progressed higher and higher up the side of the sloping mountain, it became harder to breathe. The heavier air must thin out at lower elevations than on Earth. The poor kolima we were riding was starting to make wheezing sounds.

Trying to suck in some air, I said, “I’m starting to get uncomfortable. It’s getting harder to breathe and I’m getting cold.” I remember viewing some of the temperature readings from the ship and the temperatures at our elevation was probably a brisk 34C. I wondered if coats even existed on this planet. Back in the city it was a nice 56C dipping down to almost 51C at night.

Ra-Pala laughed. He said, “Typical female! Can’t take any variance. Trust me, Ka-Shiwa. It will be worth it. Not many have ventured this far.”

The cold wind cut me like a knife. I folded my arms tightly against me. I was starting to get kind of miserable. We rode in silence for about ten minutes before I said, “Please. Let’s turn around. I’m freezing. And I think the kolima is going to pass out.”

Ra-Pala shook his head and said, “Just another couple of minutes and then you’ll forget about feeling cold.” I ducked in behind him trying to use his body to block the cold wind.

A few minutes later we crested the top of a rocky ridge that went for miles in either direction. We were well above where any vegetation would grow. I was curled up tightly behind Ra-Pala.

He outstretched his arms and said, “Top of the world!”

I peeked over his shoulder and my eyes widened. I slid off the saddle and stumbled to the edge of the rocky ridge. Views like this are common from the air. But to be standing here, on the very top of that ridge and looking outward took what was left of my breath away.

“Holy shit!” I gasped.

Stretching before me was an incredible sight. The curvature of the planet was so prominent. It almost gave me vertigo to look DOWN at clouds. Below us were mountain tops. Starting up in the mountains just below and stretching far away into the misty, brownish haze was a magnificent canyon winding through forests and dry plains, waterfalls occasionally dotting its edges. At the extreme ends of my vision was what looked to be an ocean.

On the other side of the ridge, the lower levels were obscured by cloud cover. But I could see more mountains and forests. But the larges feature was a massive ocean stretching to the horizon. I later learned that that side of the ridge was largely unexplored because it was so hard to get to.

Above us, the sky was the deepest, richest copper I’ve ever seen.

I collapsed to my knees, humbled by the vision before me. I completely forgot about the cold wind blowing through my hair.

Standing behind me, Ra-Pala said, “I told you it was worth it. Very few ever venture this far.”

I stood next to Ra-Pala and whispered, “Thank you.”

*          *          *

Ka-Nawa looked incredulous. She said, “He took you where? You shouldn’t go there! That’s where the gods live!”

I said, “It’s the most beautiful sight you’ll ever see in your life. You should get Ra-Mali to take you and Ka-Pawli there. It’s really worth it.”

Ka-Nawa smiled knowingly. She said, “Still. He must like you.”

I stopped laying out the strips of meat we were preparing for dinner. I said, “Why would you say that?”

“Because he took you to his personal sacred place. The place most special to him,” said Ka-Nawa. “That’s what Ra-Mali did with Ka-Pawli. He was sweet on her from the start.”

“Did he know she was a human male?” I asked as I went back to helping prepare the meal.

Ka-Nawa laughed. She said, “There was nothing hooman left. Just a very pretty, komali female that stepped out of the life-giver. Same as you.”

I looked up from my work and said, “You think I’m pretty?”

Ka-Nawa gave me a go to hell look and said, “Yes. I’m not going to mate with you, but yes, you’re gorgeous. And it’s not fair. You weren’t born here, but you’re both the prettiest females anyone has ever seen. Must be a feature of the life-giver.”

I went back to cutting the meat and said, “So you think he likes me?”

Ka-Nawa grinned widely and said, “Oh! You like him, don’t you?”

Frowning I said, “Give me a break. I’ve only been female for six days. I’m not sure of any of my feelings. Yes, he’s cute. And despite being a little prick, he’s nice.”

Still grinning, Ka-Nawa said, “I think father is about to lose another daughter. And again, before me.”

I grimaced and said, “Well, he is. But not the way you’re thinking. I’ll be leaving in about three days.”

Looking suddenly sad, Ka-Nawa said, “That’s right. He won’t go with you. You know that, right?”

I sighed deeply and said, “I’d never ask him to.”

*          *          *

I stood outside the lander with Dr. Marcus. Through the windscreen, I could see the pilot doing whatever the hell it is she does at the console. She saw me, smiled and waved. I used to think she was really hot. But now humans are just so damn ugly.

“The captain is getting anxious to leave,” said Dr. Marcus. “Do you really need to stay the full thirty days?”

“I want to,” I said flatly. “I like it here. This place has become home to me in a way Earth will never be again.”

Dr. Marcus nodded and said, “I can understand that. These people are your kind now. But don’t forget we have an agreement. You signed a contract.”

I chuckled and said, “Father said I can ignore that contract if I want to.”

Dr. Marcus frowned and said, “Oh? Is he a lawyer as well as a king?”

I scowled for a moment and said, “Don’t mock Father. He’s very wise. What he told me is that, for one thing, Earth laws don’t exist here. And secondly, the person who signed that contract is effectively dead. Chris Mathers no longer exists.”

Looking angry, Dr. Marcus said, “Don’t pull a Newman on us, Chris. You made a promise to us to come back. We really need a living, but docile specimen of komali. The one we tried to capture on the second mission here was a disaster. He managed to kill a crewmember and badly damage the lander before we wound up killing him. They almost didn’t make it back to the ship.”

Shocked, I said, “I thought we were the second mission here!”

Dr. Marcus shook his head and simply said, “Third. We kept the second one quiet.”

Feeling betrayed, I said, “You son of a bitch! You killed a komali trying to capture him? And you say we’re barbaric?”

Dr. Marcus said, “Well, now we don’t have to endanger one to bring it back. We have you.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Like I said. I like it here.”

*          *          *

Both of us laughing, Ra-Pala and I walked back into the king’s courtyard. Most of the family was there, doing various activities. Ra-Mali was helping with his two children as Ka-Pawli was just starting to show on her third pregnancy.

Ra-Mali looked up as we entered and said to Ra-Pala, “How did hunter practice go to day, boy?”

Ra-Pala beamed. He said, “It was great. I took top honors in the class again today!”

I said, “They even let me practice with the crossbow some.”

Ra-Pala nodded and said, “She’s not a bad shot…for a female.”

Ka-Pawli said, “I’m sure she was good, regardless. I see that you two are spending a lot of time together.”

I smiled and said, “He’s teaching me a lot about the life of a komali. He’s taken me on a hunt and out to find kotuki eggs. He’s taken me to every shop in town! We even went to a nearby city. Father said it was okay.”

Ka-Pawli looked up and said, “You know where he should take you? To that little meadow where the yellow flowers grow that let you link into the planet. You’ll never forget the experience.”

I said, “That sounds interesting. Do you know where that is?”

Ra-Pala said, “Yes. There’s actually several outside the city. We’ll go to a remote one after lunch.”

I looked from Ka-Pawli to Ra-Pala and said, “Isn’t that dangerous? I’ve seen koralth in the bushes just outside the city.”

Ra-Pala said, “Occasionally they show up near the city, but not often. They really are afraid of us. Besides, you’ll have the city’s greatest hunter…”

Ra-Mali coughed.

Ra-Pala continued, “… the city’s second greatest hunter protecting you.”

About an hour and a half later, we were pushing our way through thick leaves and branches on our way to a remote place where the little yellow flowers grow. We stepped into a small clearing and like so many other places on this planet, it was beautiful.

The yellow flowers ringed the clearing. Flying insects flitted from flower to flower. The grass was so soft. Ra-Pala indicted a place for me to sit near one of the flowers.

“Now you don’t want to stay connected to the flowers for too long,” cautioned Ra-Pala. “I’ve heard some go mad listening to the sound of the planet. Some just never come out of it.”

“Are you sure it’s safe then?” I asked as I touched a soft petal of one of the flowers.

“I suppose it is,” said Ra-Pala with a shrug.

Tinged with a bit of sarcasm, I said, “Well that’s reassuring!”

Ra-Pala leaned in towards me and said, “Just sit back and relax.” He pulled the flower towards me. The stems were longer than I thought. He entwined the flower with my dangly thing. I hadn’t really paid much attention to my tendril. But now…oh my God!

My tendril began to tingle. Sounds, seemingly far away at first slowly began to rise in intensity. Colors and sounds began to swirl in my mind, oddly combining. It was the chatter of millions of entities, plants, animals, even insects all combining into a beautiful symphony of sound. It wasn’t jarring or unpleasant. Just the opposite.

And suddenly I felt another presence very close to me. Through my tendril, I was able to see Ra-Pala, not with sight, but with sound and emotion. My whole body tingled and felt warm and comfy. With my mind, I could stretch out beyond the clearing and see trees and various animals. I didn’t see them so much as sense them. It was a most amazing experience.

Suddenly Ra-Pala became a very clear presence in my mind. He had touched our tendrils together. We seemed to be floating together in a swirl of color and sound. I’ve never felt such happiness as we tumbled slowly around.

Ra-Pala’s face was suddenly close to mine. He grinned at me and reached out a virtual hand and touched my face. He said, “You really are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”

Despite the fact that I’d been a komali female for such a short time, I felt immense pleasure with his words. In fact, I was surrounded by pleasure and beauty on a scale I could never have imagined before. I looked at the smiling image of Ra-Pala floating before me. Until this moment, while I had thought he was cute, I never realized just how cute he was and how, of all the young komali males I’d met, he seemed to be the best catch. Good looking. Brave. Skilled hunter.

What was left of my human mind kept whispering that these feelings were being induced through our tendrils by Ra-Pala himself. But I felt so happy; I pushed those thoughts from my mind.

And then I felt him enter me. I wasn’t repulsed by the thought of a male sliding his penis inside me. In fact, it excited me. It drove me almost crazy with pleasure. Of all the females in the city, Ra-Pala was choosing me to mate with. It wasn’t an official mating where would become a couple for life. I could see in his mind that I was the only female he’s mated. That drove me over the edge and I was no longer just a passive participant in the act of mating. I thrust my hips towards him; I pulled him closer to me and kissed him. I knew I was doing this in the physical world not just in my mind. I was so happy I never wanted this moment to end.

*          *          *

“How did you enjoy your encounter with the yellow flowers?” asked Ka-Pawli when I walked back inside our family’s courtyard.

I grinned and said, “That was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. It’s worth becoming komali just for that.”

Ka-Pawli smiled as she continued preparing the evening meal. All my sisters and me took turns preparing and making the meals. She didn’t look up as she said, “Yes. It’s a wonderful way to relax and re-energize and re-connect with all the life on the planet.”

I nodded and said, “I hope I get to do that at least once more before I have to leave.”

Ka-Pawli nodded back and said, “You should be able to. It’s just not wise to use the flowers too often. Some people never come back to reality. Just remember to never do that alone.”

I smiled and said, “Ra-Pala is a great teacher.”

Ka-Pawli looked over at me and said, “Maybe. I still think Ra-Mali, Ka-Nawa or me should have gone with you instead. I’m sure the temptation to take advantage of you was pretty strong with him.”

I frowned and said, “We just had a great time, okay?”

Ka-Pawli looked at me oddly and said, “Okay, okay. Hey, help me cut these steaks.”

I nodded and said, “Sure.” I picked up the strips of meat and started cutting on them. “I’m curious about something. Can I ask you something personal?”

“Sure. I guess so,” said Ka-Pawli. “We’re all sisters.”

“When did you know you wanted to mate Ra-Mali?” I said glancing over at her.

Ka-Pawli smiled at some inner thought. She said, “I resisted his flirting at first. I was a human male and the thought of being the fancy of another male bothered me at first. But I grew to like him the more we were together.” She suddenly looked sad. “And when I thought he was going to die, that’s when I knew I loved him.”

Not looking up, I said, “So you didn’t mate before then?”

Ka-Pawli shook her head. She said, “Oh no. I mean I wondered what it would be like to be with him from time to time. But like I said, I didn’t know I loved him until I thought I was going to lose him.”

“When you did mate him, did you like it?” I asked.

A large smile spread across her face as Ka-Pawli said, “Oh yes. After mating Ra-Mali, if they had a way to convert me back to a human male, I would have refused it. It’s such a wonderful experience.” She patted her belly and said, “Obviously!”

“Is it normal to mate before the actual ceremony?” I asked, still not looking over at her.

“Young people do foolish things all the time. It happens despite the best efforts of…” Ka-Pawli stopped in mid-sentence and looked over at me. Her smile was replaced with a shocked expression. She said, “He mated you, didn’t he?”

I didn’t look up. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I simply said, “Yes.”

Ka-Pawli touched my shoulders and turned me to face her. Concern on her face, she said, “Oh my little sister. You are becoming a woman. This complicates things.”

“I’m not pregnant am I?” I asked. “Ra-Pala said it can’t happen the first time.” I have to admit. I was starting to feel a bit nervous about this. I can’t believe I actually let myself have sex with an alien male. But then again, I was running totally on pleasure and I’ve never had so much of it before.

Ka-Pawli shook her head and said, “That’s unfortunately not true. But I doubt you are. Your cycles probably haven’t started yet. Mine took almost three weeks to start after becoming female.”

“Father won’t be upset will he?” I asked as I wiped at a tear.

Ka-Pawli laughed. She said, “Just don’t tell him. He doesn’t need to know everything you do. But if he knew, he wouldn’t be angry with you. He’d voice disappointment at you for not waiting until you’re officially mated to someone.”

I hesitated several moments. Finally I said, “I don’t want to return to Earth now. I don’t want to be away from Ra-Pala.”

Ka-Pawli frowned and said, “That’s why I said this complicates things. He can’t go with you. His father and our father would never allow it. And if Father finds out you mated a komali male, he will forbid you to leave anyway.”

“Can you keep this a secret?” I asked. “I have to go back. I don’t have a choice.”

Ka-Pawli smiled at me and said, “You always have choices, little sister. But for now, I’ll keep your secret and not tell Father, though he’ll probably punish me for not telling him. We’re sisters, Ka-Shiwa. Never be afraid to come to me.”

I nodded and hugged her. I said, “Thanks.”

*          *          *

“Thanks for inviting me and Captain Khurana to your house for Chris’ farewell party,” said Dr. Marcus. He and the ship’s captain were seated as best as they could in their environment suits on a couple of make-shift chairs. It was late afternoon and the humans would have to leave before it got dark. Ka-Pawli sat between the komali and humans acted as a translator going both directions.

The rest of us, Father, my sisters and Ra-Mali sat on the grass or on the few chairs we had in the house. I sat next to Father while one of my sisters braided my hair.

Capt. Khurana said, “Yes. Thank you for your hospitality. In five days we’ll be out of your hair. Hopefully we have learned a lot about each other so we can build on a relationship of mutual trust.” He glanced over at Ra-Mali who sat silently with his large crossbow. The security team from the ship was not allowed into the city.

Father stroked the back of my head and said, “I’m going to greatly miss my daughter. Ka-Shiwa has proven herself to be a true komali in all the things she has learned. She has become a valuable part of our community.”

Dr. Marcus grinned and said, “I’m so glad to hear Chris has learned so much. He’ll be an incredible asset for our studies of your world.”

“My name is Ka-Shiwa,” I said in English with a tinge of annoyance. “Please do not call me that human name again.”

“Ah, yes. Yes. I’m very sorry Ka-Shiwa,” said Dr. Marcus quickly. “I certainly meant no offense.”

Father’s face softened as he continued to stroke my hair. He said, “It will break my heart to no longer be able to see my newest daughter. To never know if she’s happy or sad and not be able to offer her advice weighs heavy on me.”

“I doubt that this will be the last time we visit your beautiful planet,” said Dr. Marcus. “We can bring back recordings showing you how well Ka-Shiwa is doing and much she’s helping without research.”

Ka-Pawli said, “You can’t possibly research her for the rest of her life. In a couple of years, you’ll have mapped her DNA, and learned how body works and just about everything about her. Just bring her back home.”

Father grinned and said, “That is an excellent suggestion! So, hooman. Why not just bring her back home instead of these…what are they? Recordings?”

Dr. Marcus looked thoughtful for a moment. He said, “I’ll bring that up with the Board of Governors, Ra-Nala. Chris… or rather Ka-Shiwa is a citizen of Earth, despite her appearances. They will decide what is in her best interests.”

Father took his hand from my hair and leaned forward with a frown. He said, “I think I know what’s best for my daughters rather than this Board of Governors.”

Dr. Marcus stood up and outstretched his arms and said, “My good sir! Your daughter will be the star of an entire planet! Virtually everyone on Earth will know the name of Ka-Shiwa! Everyone will want to see her and hear her story.”

I stood up and in English shouted, “You make it sound like I’m going to be some fucking circus sideshow! I’d rather stay here and just be my father’s daughter than be subjected to all that shit!”

Nervous, Dr. Marcus said, “Oh no. No. I assure you Miss Shiwa, that nothing of the sort will happen. You will be treated with the utmost respect. You’ll be an ambassador for your adopted planet! So please! Put your mind at ease.”

“What if I don’t want to go?” I said.

Looking pissed, Dr. Marcus said, “We’ve discussed this already. More than once I might add. You’ve made an agreement. We’ve already made the payments you demanded. We’ve already built the rooms to house you. We have a huge investment in you.”

I looked over at Ka-Pawli and said in English, “Don’t translate this part.” I turned to Dr. Marcus and said, “You have a dead komali to study. You can map his DNA and catalog his internal organs. You don’t need me.”

Looking puzzled, Ka-Pawli said, “They have a dead komali? Who?”

“From a different village,” I said. “This is their third trip here. Not the second.”

Frustrated, Dr. Marcus said with some anger in his voice, “We can’t interview a dead komali. We can’t see how he moves. What he sounds like. Or see how he responds to different stimuli. We can learn so much more from you, Miss Shiwa!”

“It’s Ka-Shiwa, you dolt!” I spat.

Dr. Marcus indicated to Captain Khurana to stand. He said, “I see you’re just letting yourself get upset. As we get closer to the departure date, you’ll start longing for all your favorite Earth places to see and visit and you’ll be eager to return.” To the captain, he said, “Come, Captain. Let’s return to the lander.”

After the humans had left, Ka-Pawli approached me and said in English so Father wouldn’t know just yet, “Is that true? They have a dead komali? How?”

I said, “I don’t think they meant to kill him. In trying to capture him, he killed one of them and so badly damaged their ship they were barely able to get back to orbit.”

Ka-Pawli shook her head and said, “And then they discovered you. A terminally ill person with nothing to lose. It probably didn’t even take much effort to sell you on the idea and how it would extend your life.”

I nodded and said, “Very true.”

Ka-Pawli frowned and said, “Never tell this to Father. No telling what he’d be likely to do.”

I nodded again and said, “Mum’s the word.”

*          *          *

“Ra-Pala!” I squealed. “I hoped I’d see you at least one last time.” I was in the park area near the edge of the city, opposite of the city from my father’s house. I was keeping an eye on Ka-Pawli’s children while she and Ra-Mali went into the city to conduct some business of some kind. There were lots of children playing on the little structures designed for them to crawl over and inside. And lots of adult females watching them.

Ra-Pala grinned. He slid off his kolima and walked up and kissed me. He said, “I wasn’t going to let you leave and not say good-bye. I rather not let you leave.”

I frowned and said, “It’s complicated. But maybe they’ll bring me back when they’re done with me.”

Shrugging, Ra-Pala said, “I will have mated with someone else by then.”

Looking at the ground, I said, “I can’t ask you to wait for me. They might never let me return.”

“I could go with you,” said Ra-Pala earnestly.

“No!” I said a bit too sternly. “I would love to have you with me, but no. Don’t even think it. You would not be happy on Earth. You know those silly suits the humans wear? You’d have to wear one like it every time you left the building they’ll keep us in.”

Ra-Pala touched my cheek and said, “I hate to think of you in such a place. You’ll be all alone.”

I forced a smile and said, “Well, there won’t be any komali around, but I won’t be alone. Even when I take a dump.”

“Let’s go back to the yellow flowers once more,” said Ra-Pala. We’d been back there on one other occasion, but he didn’t try to mate me that time.

I shook my head and said, “I can’t right now. I’m watching Ka-Pawli’s children.”

Ra-Pala looked over at Ka-Pawli’s children just a dozen or so feet from us. He said, “You’ll never have your own children.”

Having spent most of my life as a male, the thought of giving birth was not a very comfortable one. I said, “I think I can skip that part.”

Ra-Pala grinned at me and said, “You’re sure you don’t want one or five of those?” He pointed at Ka-Pawli’s children playing nearby.

Before I could answer, there was a scream from behind me. Ra-Pala and I both started to turn around and saw to our horror a koralth running through the park. And he was making a B-line straight for Ka-Pawli’s children!

I started to run towards them. Ra-Pala caught my arm. He said, “He’ll kill you. There’s something wrong with him for him to come this far into the city! I don’t have my bow!”

The koralth circled the children for a moment. The children were frozen in fear. People in the park were screaming. I thought maybe he’ll just go on his way or maybe a hunter will show up soon.

And then to my horror, the koralth rushed to the youngest child and scooped her into his mouth and then he turned and darted away. The child screamed, “Mommy!”

I shouted, “Oh my God! He took her!” Without waiting or thinking of what I was going to do, I leaped into the saddle of Ra-Pala’s kolima and kicked it harder in the flanks than it probably has ever experienced. I’ve ridden on only twice and I held on for dear life as it took off like a shot. I held on for dear life as I drove the two-legged beast hell-bent for leather.

Kolima’s are fast when they need to be. Using the reins, I steered the kolima in the direction of the retreating koralth. I was gaining on it quickly and had to reach it before I lost it in the jungle. Ka-Pala was chasing after me on foot, shouting for me.

We entered the edge of the forest. The plants were still low enough that I could see the monster plowing through. As I approached it, I pulled my knife from its sheath and as soon as I was beside it, I leaped from the kolima onto the koralth’s back.

On impact, I drove the knife deep between the animal’s shoulder blades. It let out a howl and dropped the child and I saw it tumble away in the grass. There was some blood and I couldn’t tell if she was still breathing. I just didn’t have time to look.

The koralth tried to toss me off its back as I slashed at its neck. He fell to the ground and rolled, knocking me to the grass, its claws flailing in the air. A claw caught my arm and managed to slice it open. I gritted my teeth, trying not to yell. The koralth started to trot over to the child.

As I leaped at the koralth a second time, plunging my knife deep into the ribcage, I shouted, “You are NOT taking that child!” The beast roared in pain. It spun its head around and managed to get my leg in its mouth. It bit, puncturing my leg in several places. This time I screamed in pain and horror. I thought he was going to bite my leg off.

I felt faint. I couldn’t let go as that meant death for sure from those mighty jaws. He turned his head and ran towards the child again. Ra-Pala must be correct that there was something wrong with the animal. There’s no way the beast would continue to go after the child with me plunging my knife repeatedly into its flesh.

I cut its leg and caused it to stumble, tossing me again to the ground. This time the koralth turned and roared at me. He then came straight for me. I grabbed him by the throat. I had dropped my knife when I fell. I tried to hold his head with those horrible teeth just inches away from me as I frantically felt the ground beside me for the knife. I saw the knife fall. I knew it had to be right next to me.

It roared defiantly at me, his mouth just inches from my face. His breath stank of death, flesh and blood. He clawed at my side, cutting me open again. Finally, I found the knife and plunged it right into the koralth’s throat. Blood shot out all over my face. With one final growl, the koralth collapsed on top of me; dead.

Several hunters arrived on their kolimas a few moments after the koralth died. Ra-Pala had ridden with one of them. I heard a hunter shout, “The child is over here! She’s badly hurt, but alive!”

Ra-Pala said to the hunter next to him, “We got to get this monster off of her!”

Gasping for air and in tremendous pain, and feeling weak from blood loss, I said, “Don’t bother with me! Take the child to a life-giver. Save her!”

Ra-Pala said, “No. We take you too. Thanks to the hoomans, we have two life-givers at the church.” Together with the other hunter, Ra-Pala managed to roll the beast from me.

The other hunter said, “She’s tore up pretty bad. I don’t know if she’ll make it.”

Ra-Pala picked me up and placed me in front of the saddle on the kolima they had ridden up on. He looked at the other hunter and said, “She’ll make it. She has to. I’ll send someone for you!” He jumped into the saddle and kicked the flanks of the kolima and rode it hard back to the city.

When we arrived at the church, and Ra-Pala was rushing me to the other life-giver, the child was already laying in the warm glow of the other life-giver. Ka-Pawli was shouting and crying hysterically as Ra-Mali held her back. An older woman was leaning over the child and chanting.

An elderly woman directed Ra-Pala how to lay me into the life-giver. She said, “I’ll tend to her. Please move back.” She laid her hands on me and began to chant.

Lying in the life-giver felt so much different this time. No unpleasant pin pricks. I just felt warm and being softly massaged. I really thought I was going to die. But now I felt my life coming slowly back.

The woman leaning over me touched our tendrils together for a moment. She looked suddenly surprised. She leaned back and said, “This girl is pregnant!” I passed out.

*          *          *

As I sat up from the life-giver, everyone was staring at me.

Ra-Pala said, “Thank the gods you’re okay!” He held my hand.

Ka-Pawli said, “You’re a hero. You saved my child!”

Ra-Mali said, “Impressive, girl. Taking down a koralth with a knife.”

I just sat there in the glowing leaves of the life-giver and said, “Are you serious? I’m pregnant? How can you tell?” I felt my belly which was just as flat as it ever was.

The elder woman said, “I touched your tendril. Your body told me.”

Our father came running up to our little group, his breath heavy. He said, “What’s this about Ka-Pawli’s child being carried off by a koralth? Ra-Mali, why aren’t your organizing a hunting party? The trail will grow cold soon.”

Ka-Pawli picked up her little daughter from the life-giver and held her up for all to see. Smiling broadly, she said, “She’s fine, Father. Ka-Shiwa saved her.”

Father knitted his brows together as he looked from Ka-Pawli to me. He said, “Ka-Shiwa did what?”

Grinning, Ra-Mali said, “Ra-Nala, your newest daughter is a hunter in her own right. She chased the koralth down on a kolima and attacked it with only her knife. She was badly mauled and if not for the life-giver, would probably have died of her wounds.”

Ra-Pala said, “She didn’t hesitate a second. She jumped on the back of my kolima and rode after the beast.”

Smiling, Father stepped over to me and extended his hand to help me stand up. He placed his hands on my shoulders and held me tightly in his grip. He said, “I’m proud of you Ka-Shiwa. You thought only of the safety of that child and you acted selflessly. But you might have died. Next time, the gods forbid there ever is a next time, take some help with you.”

He hugged me tightly as a tear ran down his cheek.

He took a step back and said, “What this about you being pregnant?”

Sheepishly, I said, “I’m sorry Father. I only found out a moment ago.”

Ra-Nala said, “Nothing to be sorry for. I’m sure it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all you are learning. I’m sure back on Earth you mated with males every day and didn’t think a thing about it.”

I said, “Well, not exactly...”

Father said, “Who was the male that mated with you?”

Hanging his head some, Ra-Pala said, “That would be me, sir.”

Ra-Nala laughed and said, “I thought as much. Welcome to the family.” He looked over at me for a few moments, frowning. “This changes everything, my daughter. I forbid you to return to Earth with the hoomans.”

I said, “I’m afraid they will insist.”

Father said, “Do you want to go back?”

I shook my head and said, “Not any more. Especially now.”

Father said, “Then we’ll just have to tell the hoomans you’re not going back. Considering the circumstances, surely they’ll understand.”

*          *          *

“I don’t understand!” exclaimed Dr. Marcus. He, Captain Khurana, our chief biologist Dr. Linda Guzman and a security team of four were all standing in Father’s courtyard along with me, Ka-Pawli, Father, Ka-Nawa, Ra-Pala, Ra-Mali, all my sisters and several other hunters. The day I was supposed to return with the humans had arrived.

“I told you, Dr. Marcus. I’m pregnant. I’m not going back to Earth,” I said folding my arms under my breasts.

Dr. Guzman, who had been busy the past few weeks cataloging as many plants and animals as possible said, “We can’t cryo a pregnant animal, Dr. Marcus. The process would just kill them both.”

Scowling, I said, “Did you just say ‘animal’? Is that all I am to you?”

“I… uh, I… I was just speaking generically. We can’t cryo a pregnant anything successfully.”

“Just terminate the pregnancy,” said Dr. Marcus. “Then you can come back with us.”

“I’ll terminate you, if you try that!” I snarled. “The bottom line is that I’m not going back. Period!”

“You’ll be in breach of contract,” said Dr. Marcus seriously.

I laughed and said, “Sue me.”

Dr. Marcus looked at me, then over to Ka-Pawli. He said, “I can’t say that I blame you, really. When we were discussing our plan to bring you here, convert you and bring you back, we knew there was a high risk of you pulling a Newman.”

Captain Khurana said, “Enough discussion. This little excursion cost the taxpayers a lot of money. Dr. Guzman, sedate her. Security, seize her.”

Dr. Guzman hesitated for a second. She didn’t open her medical bag. The four security officers stepped towards me with their rifles drawn.

A dozen crossbows were quickly raised and pointed at various members of the human team.

I said, “For us, you have to hit a vital spot. For you, we just have to puncture your suits.”

The Security team just stood there a moment, unsure of what to do. Dr. Marcus looked genuinely worried. The captain just stood there and scowled.

The captain said, “Security. Stand down.” The security team stood motionless for a moment. “I said, stand down.” The security team lowered their weapons.

“Wise choice,” said Ka-Pawli.

I said, “Look. I really did intend to go back. But now I realize just how miserable I’d be. I mean, look around. I have a family now. How could I leave?”

Dr. Marcus smiled at me. He said, “Enjoy your family, Ka-Shiwa. I thank your king for his hospitality. Good-bye.” He turned back towards the ship and took a few steps. No one followed him.

Captain Khurana said, “We’re leaving without Mathers? We’ve wasted a trip to this shit-hole steam bath of a planet? I’m not leaving without him.”

Trying to look stern, Dr. Marcus said, “You’re in charge of the ship, Captain Khurana, not the expedition. We’re leaving now. And we’re leaving the kolmali girl here. Dr. Guzman has more than enough samples of flora and fauna to keep her team busy for years. Let’s go.”

Captain Khurana hesitated a moment, scowled at me and muttered, “Shit! Stupid bitch.” He turned and walked away, followed by the security team.

Dr. Guzman said, “Good luck.” She turned and followed the others.

After the humans had left the area, Father hugged me and said, “Thank you, Ka-Shiwa for not letting them convince you to go with them.”

I kissed Father’s cheek and said, “I could never leave you Father!”

Ra-Pala said, “What about me?”

I kissed Ra-Pala on the lips and lightly touched our tendrils together. I said, “I would never leave you, either!”

Father hugged Ra-Pala and I together and shouted, “Mating ceremony tonight!”

Ka-Pawli smiled at me as she slid her arm around Ra-Mali’s waist.

I looked around at my new family. I’ve never been happier in my whole life.

*          *          *

Pregnant with my second child, I was in the park with my son, teaching him to sing an Earth song when the drop ship from a military cruiser from Earth landed at the far edge of the park.

*          *          *

The End



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