Rosetta waited patiently in the dark, watching every move that Martine made. She knew he was the one who bandaged her, but she still couldn’t trust him. She knew from her time in the lab that the humans had the ability to give her massive headaches if she resisted them.
And then I can kill him.
It wasn’t a desire of hers to kill Martine, but she was wary of her human quarry. He could be just as dangerous to her as she was to him.
Martine may have been the only human that Rosetta ever liked, but that didn’t change the violated feeling she had in the pit of her stomach from him walking toward her village. She felt exposed to him; he was an invader in her home territory. She may have been able to hold back her predatory urges, but she knew that any other Canis would not be so hesitant.
As she tracked him through the woods, she struggled with her conscience. Was she spying on him until she found an opportune time to strike? Was she watching over him for protection? The questions were never difficult to answer before. Rosetta usually knew where she stood on every being that stood before her, but she found herself feeling strangely maternal for Martine. Watching him move through her forest with all the respect and routine of a Canis made her proud of her young student.
Martine was obviously not equipped to traverse the jungle on his own. No human she ever saw was. If an entire platoon of soldiers can barely survive, one young scientist was little more than a sacrificial offering. Rosetta considered his exile to be a sign of how different he was from the other humans. The Canis only exiled members of their own clan when they were sociopaths… or dangerous.
Because of what she taught him, Rosetta may have created the greatest weapon her people had against the humans. Martine knew how to build and use human technology. He knew all about their strengths and weaknesses. Combine this knowledge with his ability to communicate with Canis language and she could even the odds in the defense of her culture. He seemed sympathetic enough to her race already. It was now her job to make the other Canis understand this.
She made her way around Martine’s path so she could intercept him. Her arm ached and made it difficult to keep her normal pace, but she had endured worse. In Lab 14, before she met Martine, the technicians in Lab 14 used to restrain her instead of wasting expensive anesthetic. They would cut into her with no numbing agent while she was wide awake and jam microchips between her internal organs. Walking with a limp was nothing compared to that.
When Martine turned the corner around a large tree trunk, he stopped in his tracks. The large shadowy figure of Rosetta standing in front of him startled him, but he knew right away who it was. The white markings on her silver fur seemed to shimmer in the shadows of the forest canopy. She stepped toward him, staring into his eyes with the mysterious expression she always gave him. Martine couldn’t help but feel a tinge of fear, but he kept his ground and let her approach without averting his gaze.
“I’ve decided not to kill you yet” she spoke plainly.
Martine smiled. He took the meaning of those words with the full weight she put behind them. His understanding of the Canis and their territorial nature provided him with the insight to reply, “I’m honored.”
A smile seemed as if it were appearing on Rosetta’s face, but she turned away from Martine before he could know for certain. She began striding away from him, “I hope you can continue being respectful of the Canis culture. It won’t be up to me to kill you if you don’t behave perfectly in Gro-Tasim.”
Martine hoped so too.
It was difficult for Martine to comprehend how large Gro-Tasim was when he first saw it. The city had no walls or fences to define its borders. Many of its huts and shacks resided in areas where the woods were still thick. They didn’t seem to mind the vines and moss creeping over their homes as long as it stayed outside. The Canis in these homes stood and stared at Martine as he walked by with Rosetta, but none of them spoke.
Once they passed the last of the trees and Martine’s boots stepped onto the hard rock of the mountain, the scope of the village was far more obvious. The central hub of Gro-Tasim was a bustling market with hundreds of Canis trading various goods and services. The scene reminded Martine of the Medieval merchant cities that humans once had on Earth, except many of the goods being traded here were far more advanced. Despite how isolated and traditional the Canis people were, they were far more advanced technologically than the Felni. They had small steam engines and mineral refineries. Several of the larger huts had crude electricity and plumbing. All of this was fashioned with local raw materials.
The sensory overload Martine was experiencing blinded him to the hundreds of Canis that stopped what they were doing to stare at him. Many of them looked as if they were about to pounce. Rosetta stood beside him protectively as they continued to walk through the crowd, toward a large building resembling a pagoda with a red roof. Two exceptionally large Canis blocked the entrance. One was black with some brown splotches, a narrow pointed snout, and ears that stood straight up. The other had a short, wide snout and thick orange fur. “What are you doing, Prescha? Have you surrendered us all?” the darker guard questioned Rosetta.
“He’s my prisoner. Let me speak to them” she replied.
“Looks to me like you’re the injured one” snorted the orange Canis.
Rosetta growled at both of them, “Let me through, idiots.”
Despite Martine’s stoic and respectful appearance, his mind had lost its composure. He was ecstatic that he could understand every word they spoke to each other. Every detail of the village had fascinated him and he labored to take all of it into his memory.
The Canis had far more subspecies here than Martine had ever seen in the labs and field reports. The Felni had three different body types and various colors of fur, but were nowhere near as diverse as the Canis. Newly discovered Canis species that he learned of in the few hundred meters he walked into the city included hounds, small terriers, hyenas, foxes, jackals, and the guards that resembled a Doberman and Chow. The larger members of society did most of the hunting, construction, and defense, while the smaller species had more specialized talents.
Martine felt his body get pushed and fall to the ground inside a large room with a wooden floor. He looked up to see ladders leading to higher floors inside the building. The structure seemed well engineered and impressive, but Martine chided himself internally for underestimating an alien race with his assumptions. Rosetta had obviously not told him everything.
“I have brought a prisoner” Rosetta’s voice rang out loudly and echoed in the large room. “He is very knowledgeable of human technology and has served me well in my scouting. He is my gift to you.”
Martine looked around to see dozens of Canis standing around him, all appearing to restrain themselves from violent urges as they looked at him. In front of him sat three Canis: a fox, a wolf, and a hound with loose wrinkled skin. Two of them dressed in opulent robes befitting Roman senators, while the wolf wore a simple hunting garb. The fox spoke first, “What do you want us to do with this gift of yours?” His tone was inquisitive and non-threatening.
“I leave that to you. He is a human, but he has shown me compassion far beyond what I’ve seen in others of his kind. He is regarded as one of the most intelligent in their pack, so he must know of their weapons and machines. Do with him what you wish.”
Martine was humbled by Rosetta’s words and he quickly remembered his decorum. He averted his eyes downward from the three obviously important individuals sitting before him and slumped his shoulders in submission. The crowd took notice and their muffled conversations quieted for the moment.
The wolf’s voice was deep and quiet, but it cut through the room like a blade, “You were scouting for a very long time, Prescha. Am I correct to assume you were captured?”
The crowd began to murmur loudly, but Rosetta’s response was swift and decisive, “Yes, sir. I am prepared to endure my punishment for returning to Gro-Tasim. I feel that this human could be a powerful tool for our people, however.”
“Understood” the wolf replied coldly.
The fox seemed especially curious about Martine, “We have seen and heard of compassion in humans before. As rare as it may be, what makes this one so special that you dare bring him here?”
Rosetta hesitated for a moment, but looked across the room intensely when she spoke, “He saved me from the other humans. He betrayed his own pack and learned our language so that he could help me.”
Martine was puzzled. He wasn’t sure if she was lying to save his skin or if she actually thought that her release was his doing. He kept his head down despite the powerful desire to look up at the three Canis dignitaries for a clue to their response. His life was in unprecedented danger, but the entire situation felt surreal. The room was silent for what felt like an hour.
The fox finally spoke up, “The human lives for now. I will take him under my watch personally and ascertain his potential. Prescha, you are to suffer your punishment immediately.”
The other two did not speak, so Martine assumed that they concurred with the ruling of the fox. He heard the guards come in behind him and escort Rosetta outside without a word. A few moments later, the crowd dispersed through the same exit. Martine didn’t dare to lift his head until he was told to. He could feel his body trembling in the middle of the huge unfamiliar place. He was a tiny unwelcome speck in the epicenter of a vast city of powerful, dangerous beings. The instant that he heard Rosetta leave, his fear came to a head.
A very large hand with sharp nails startled him as it rested on his shoulder. Instinctively, he looked up to see the wolf staring down into his eyes. The clawed hand felt like it was trembling. Martine thought he could see the wolf’s large eyes water, but the imposing figure turned away and strode toward the exit.
The fox was still sitting at his place to the left side of the room. Once, the wolf left the room, he asked “What do you expect us to do with you?”
Martine chose not to respond. He averted his eyes yet again.
“You don’t have to be afraid of me for now, human. I am Jerana, one of the Alphas of this city. What are you called?”
“Martine. I am a scientist.”
“You speak well, Martine. What do you think you can offer my people? Prescha is paying a heavy cost for your presence here.”
“I’m not sure what she wanted me to do,” he couldn’t help but whisper. He was aware that any disrespect could get him killed immediately. “but I would like to stop Arc –the humans– from taking your children.”
Jerana stood and walked toward Martine. The hound Alpha continued to sit silently on the right side of the room, observing them. “You’re telling me that our cubs are still alive? Why would they steal them?”
“They are studying the different local life forms.” Martine couldn’t possibly tell him the full truth if he wanted to live.
Martine looked up when Jerana’s small hand touched his cheek. “Are you the only one that opposes these studies, Martine?”
He thought for a long time before deciding to be honest, “I’m certain there are many others, but I don’t know one in particular.”
“It’s often difficult to speak what you feel is right when you feel the rest of your pack would disagree, yes?”
Martine was floored. Rosetta had made him realize how intelligent the Canis were, but this fox was unbelievably open-minded. He showed compassion and empathy to the most hated thing among their people.
Jerana wore a kind smile. He didn’t need a response when he saw the look in Martine’s eyes. “I’ve always been of the opinion that we were ignorant if we thought we could generalize all of the humans as cold, brutal invaders. While I would never pander to your people the way the Felni and Rhin have, I can appreciate that each of you are individuals just as much as any Canis in this city. I’m hoping that your presence here will prove my theory.”
“You’re a scientist?” Martine’s fear began to melt away.
Jerana laughed, “No, I’m not. I’m a philosopher that talks too much and listens to my daughter. She’s the scientist, and you’re going to be her new toy.”
“Xerah” the young fox in front of Martine said, seeming to be trying very hard to be cordial. She was a few inches shorter than Martine, but much thinner. Her arms and legs were lean and muscular like most of the foxes he saw in the village. Her orange and white fur looked more like rust and grey with all the grease and soot she had embedded in it. She stood on her hind legs naturally, which Rosetta taught him was an unusual thing in Gro-Tasim.
“Martine” he responded, trying to match her formality.
Xerah smiled at him and her yellow eyes glowed bright and beautiful in contrast to her darkened fur and black features. She wore strange clothing that Martine soon recognized as pieced-together Arc uniforms. The goggles she wore around her neck were the same ones the Security Teams wore in the field. She was obviously not shy about her liking for human technology. Martine was beginning to see why her father wanted him to be her new toy.
“I see you have an interest in human technology” would turn out to be the only words Martine would get out for hours.
Xerah grabbed his hand and yanked him with surprising strength toward an upward-leading staircase. Martine hadn’t realized how large Jerana’s house was until he started climbing. The two stumbled up the wooden staircase for a minute or two before their feet rested on a metallic floor in a large room that looked like a mechanic’s workshop. Martine’s compulsively orderly mind reeled.
“This is my workshop!” Xerah exclaimed with pride. “I go out and scout for anything that humans leave in our forest and bring it back here to learn how it works. This over here is a box that lights up whenever someone comes near it. And then this over here is a metal arm that can bend and articulate just like a normal arm. Ooh! And over here is–“ she continued to show Martine all kinds of human equipment he was readily familiar with.
It seemed like showing him all of these things was one of the highlight of Xerah’s life. She stumbled over all the junk on the floor as she explained each and every gadget in her shop. He was impressed at how many of them she got right, but there were several pieces that she had no idea of their purpose. He tried to remember being that age; he had all that curiosity and wonder about space travel and exotic plants and organisms. It had been less than a decade since those days, but it had felt far longer lately.
“I know none of this stuff is as cool as the crazy tech you guys probably have in development now, but I worked hard to find all of it and make it work. The others in town all think I’m disgraceful for bringing human stuff into town, but they’re just being ignorant. I think that we should learn everything we can about advanced machinery no matter where it comes from. It’s the best way for us to progress as a race!” Xerah went on after finishing her extensive tour. “What do you think?”
Martine stared silently at her for several seconds, skeptical about it being his turn to speak. “Well your shop is certainly… impressive.”
“Thank you!” she said as she beamed and her eyes lit up once again. Martine smiled back when he noticed the lighter color of her fur around where her goggles would cover in contrast to the rest of her face. “Um.. But I was asking what you thought about me using human tech?”
“Oh. Well, the only thing that matter to me about who I get my data from is their credibility. Race, nationality, beliefs, all that doesn’t matter as long as their information is accurate.”
Xerah ran up and hugged him tightly. Martine didn’t know how to react to her affection, but he couldn’t do much movement anyway with how strong her grip was on him. She must not be able to find other Canis that she can relate to or talk with this way. Her habits probably made her quite the outcast in that village. Add to that the same exclusion that specially intelligent individuals suffered in normal society and you have a very lonely little girl.
“I’m glad to see you two are getting along well” Jerana’s voice came from the doorway behind them. Xerah released her grip on Martine and ran up to her father to give him a similar greeting. Martine turned to face him, surprised that he too was standing upright now.
Xerah whispered into her father’s ear “He’s fantastic. I just know he’ll teach me a ton about their tech.” She kissed him on the cheek before trotting off down the stairs.
Martine scratched his head awkwardly as he walked toward Jerana. “She’s definitely a bright one” he said with a smile.
“That she is. It’s from her mother’s side of course.” Jerana chuckled. “If the strength of that hug is any indicator, she definitely likes you. Do you think you can help her learn about your culture and technology?”
Martine liked Xerah too. As young and clumsy as the girl was, she was very bright and open-minded. He also admired how fearless she was to embrace an human so readily. “I would love to, as long as you two can help me continue learning about the Canis.”
“Excellent!” Jerana wasn’t as excitable as his daughter, but his smile was just as bright and welcoming. “Come downstairs now and we’ll talk more over dinner.”
Xerah was already eating when Martine and Jerana arrived at the table. The meal consisted of what appeared to be a large rodent similar to a Capybara and some of the fruits that Martine recognized from his expedition. Martine would have liked to study the animal they were eating, but knew it would be rude to do so.
“This is something we learned from watching humans actually” Jerana said with his mouth full. “We found that cooking our meat reduced disease and made it taste better. Some of us still prefer it raw of course. They consider it more natural and think it toughens them up.”
Martine was glad Jerana was already making good on his pledge to teach. The meat was much better than he expected it would be, but he still preferred the fruit. “The tiny organisms that cause disease can’t survive through harsh heat, that is why.” was his contribution to the conversation.
Xerah stopped eating for a moment, fascinated by the statement. “Disease is caused by little animals? Can you see them in here right now?” she peered at her food closely.
Martine couldn’t help but laugh, but Jerana was looking for an answer as well. “No, no. They’re so small that you can’t see them at all without special equipment. I saw that you have a microscope up in your workshop. We can see them with that if we get some samples.”
Xerah started pulling her meat apart and put a piece of it in her pocket before continuing her meal. Jerana smiled at both of them and continued his as well. Martine felt content in that moment. It was the first time in years that he felt like part of a family.
Canis Race Relations
The Canis have several subspecies that each have their own social traits.
The wolf type Canis are the largest in size of all of them. Lupus hide large muscles and thick bones beneath long fur and thick skin. Their senses of smell and hearing are so far advanced that they are often thought to be telepathic because they can communicate with each other on a level that other species cannot grasp. They generally take the role of scouting and protecting Canis territory, but they also hunt and fish. Many Lupus consider Ursus to be friends and equals of the Canis, even though most Canis usually shun other races.
The Vulpi are the Canis that resemble foxes. They have large tails with thick fur and have coats that range in colors between whites, reds, browns, and blacks. They have small builds and usually weigh less than 100 lbs. They are often characterized by curiosity, mischief, and intelligence. Their jobs in Gro-Tasim are mostly center around commerce, research, or design. They have strong artistic and mathematics skills. Their frailty limits them to traveling in groups or staying within city limits mostly since the humans arrived. In more peaceful times, Vulpi once foraged in the woods alone to bring back food for their families.
Famil is the classification offered for the diverse class of Dog-type Canis. The different families or houses of Famils leads to their drastically differing appearances. Most Famil believe that they should only mate within their own house to strengthen their bloodline, but occasionally mutts are born. Famils take on skilled crafting jobs mostly. Many of them are just as strong as Lupus, so they work construction and maintenance. Smaller ones are usually more intelligent, so they work as architects, engineers, or other highly cerebral positions.
The races of Canis that generally live beyond the limits of Gro-Tisim are classified as Croku. This includes the wild dogs, hyenas, and other less civilized members of the species. Most Croku speak their own simplified dialect of Canis language and are primitive and destructive because of their lack of brain development. The few that do live in Gro-Tisim are low level scavengers or perform the least desirable functions of city life.