ยง 2024-03-30 23:21:31


[23:35] They were out of the desert before the sun rose again. Athechelt was giving some unmistakable directions – whether it would be to some kind of weapon's cache, if indeed the kavkema had any, or just a route offering safe passage, Samanta still couldn't tell. Akuned was quite excited about whatever they were doing, but Athechelt didn't seem to share her enthusiasm.

By the time dawn had finished, the rover had rolled past a thickening savanna and into the first tentative beginnings of a forest. It was around this time that Athechelt did something quite unexpected – he climbed onto the rover's roof. Not that the rover had much in the way of a firm roof; but much like his distant cousin of birds, that didn't stop Athechelt, who perched on its frame.

Every once in a while, he trilled, a sound that Samanta hadn't heard a kavkem made before and didn't sound quite right for a creature their size. Maybe he was emulating some other creature's call – an actual bird. Drawing attention to himself without drawing the wrong kind of attention to himself.

None came.

Around solar noon, they paused to eat. Samanta parked the rover in as much of a clearing as could be found, letting the roof soak up sunshine and recharge batteries. Akuned darted off into the forest, clearly with a hunt in mind, and Athechelt and Samanta simply waited, letting the breeze play across the former's feathers.

Eventually, a good hour later, Akuned returned, two raw fish, a large lizard and a plump fowl in her hands and mouth. To Athechelt, she gave a fish and the fowl. To Samanta, she offered a fish probingly, blinking at her. She'd seen her eat, of course and Samanta still had a good amount of provisions to sustain her, so perhaps it was a gesture purely of politeness. It was probably wiser to reject it – equally politely – so that Akuned could eat her fill.


[00:10] Turning it away altogether, on the other hand, seemed likely to be rude. Perhaps she could eat a small bit of it as compromise? As long as she took only a bit of meat, and didn't touch the organs, fish was unlikely to be poisonous to her. But it was likely to be crawling with bacteria, especially if it was from lowland (and therefore slow-moving) freshwater. The thought hit her that this would have been an absurd concern for specialized predators such as the kavkema were; but her own ancestors, back in the savanna, had to conquer carnivory slowly and painfully on their own. Plan: harvest a tiny morsel of the fish, cook it on a lighter or burner from the lab kit in the rover, eat it, leave the rest of the fish to Akuned.

She did precisely that. Tweezers and scalpel were not quite an adequate replacement for fork and knife, but they served well enough to cut off a square of fish, pull it from under the skin (it had a trout-like red hue that looked very promising), and hold it over a burner's flame until the Maillard reaction did its magic. Everything else, with a slow, solemn nod toward her two companions, she handed over to Akuned.


[00:22] Akuned looked visibly surprised as Samanta returned the fish. It was less clear if she was also grateful, but she certainly didn't seem offended.

With most of the fish returned, the kavkem own feeding ritual proved far less elaborate. She sank her teeth into the fish's head and twisted the body aggressively until the skull popped off its spine, then began to pull slivers of the skeleton. The lizard she'd already eaten before Samanta returned the rest of the fish.

Athechelt had done something similar with his own and was busy plucking feathers from the dead bird, evidently without any sense of feathery kinship to stop him, when a trill much like the one that he'd uttered earlier could be heard, and he stopped, attention snapping around, clearly trying to find the source of the sound.


[01:32] No mammals in sight yet. Samanta, aware that from a strictly biological perspective she was closer kin to a scurrying rodent than to her feathered good friends, wandered if there were none to catch in the surrounding, if the kavkema didn't consider them good meals, or if Athechelt had deliberately avoided serving a mammal as a meal in front of a mammalian guest.

As for herself, she had to be content with peeling clear-thin tinfoil from little squares of generic Food, of the appearance and consistency of packed humus, and with some sort of vaguely saltish-sweetish flavor. She felt there must be some reasonable compromise between that and tearing off the head of a raw fish with her bare teeth (her pitiful little blunt hominid teeth, which couldn't even regrow if they were left behind in a carcass), but it wasn't to be.

That thought was cut down on the spot by the response trill, which must have been a signal used by kavkema scouts. She too turned around, to the soundscape of the forest, not quite sure if she had actually recognized a call or just followed Athechelt's example. She knew better than to speak or move much. But she did slowly shift her weight to a crouch, keeping Athechelt in the corner of her eye, ready to spring to her feet should there be any need.


[01:41] It had been distant enough that there wasn't a particular reason for anything to appear from between the trees in the nearest future. Indeed, Athechelt seemed to come to the same conclusion, and for a moment continued his plucking, a little absent-mindedly, before finding the necessary voice inside of him, and giving another firm trill, his body language nowhere near as proud as the sound he was making.


[03:43] A part of Samanta wanted to help making the call, before a much bigger part of her pointed out that was both unadvisable and impossible. The muscles in her limbs tensed up almost painfully. If the new presence was a friend — and Athechelt appeared to think it was likely to be — there was no trouble. If it was an enemy, they'd better be ready to run away immediately. If it was a neutral party... she wasn't sure how to even start planning for that. She peered into the distant trees in the direction Athechelt was facing, trying to detect some motion, some shadow, some animal shape among the fronds.