When he and Toke had agreed to go on a special assignment for the Governor, they had no idea it would entail training with other Otokononeko from San Fran. They were all big cats like himself and Toke. A few were actually taller than Toke, but none had his shoulders. More than a week had passed since they were flown out of Fresno to this remote location, somewhere north of the great city where Lynn Leakey’s seat of power sat.
He and Toke had thought that they were going to accompany Lynn’s security forces to another city to break up another ring of slavers. But that wasn’t the case. It was late in the night, he was supposed to be asleep, but he couldn’t manage it. He sat on the porch of his little cabin that he shared with Toke. He didn’t like the place. It had the stink of humans about it. Their interference in the natural order of things was in evidence everywhere, from the cabins, the road, and pathways between the cabins. He wanted to be back in his parent’s tree or one of his own.
He was gazing up at the stars, catching sight of the occasional shooting star that would streak across the sky. He wanted to go home. This was not what he had signed up for. The boards under him creek and the cabin door opened on squeaky hinges.
“Jamel, what’s up?”
The big cat huffed a sigh and sat down next to him. Their shoulders touched, and Jamel realized it was comforting. The big cat said, “Look, I say we blow this place and head back home if this continues much longer.”
“That would be fine with me. But where the hell are we?”
Jamel felt his buddy shrug next to him. Toke looked up at the night sky and commented, “The moon should be up in another half hour. Want to go hunting?”
Jamel chuffed, “No. The last time we did that, we got chewed out by the commander for sleeping in and failing to show for muster.”
“Maybe we should hunt south and just keep going.”
Jamel turned a little to regard his best friend. “We don’t know how far north we are.”
Toke showed his teeth to his companion in a human-like grin. “Are you afraid of getting lost?”
Jamel pushed at Toke. “No, of course not. It’s about time. How long it would take us to get back home, that’s all.”
He was surprised when the big cat asked, “Is that all that has been holding us here?”
Jamel looked down the row of cabins to the one at the far end where the commander slept. “No, that’s not all. I wanted to know why we are really here. What are they training us for? Rail rifles, plasma pistols, shock grenades, it’s like we’re going to war. And we have been conscripted to fight.”
Toke admitted, “It’s cool shooting the rifles and pistols.”
Reluctantly, Jamel conceded, “Yes, that is cool. But why are we being taught this?”
“I think you’re right. We are being trained for war.”
With an incredulous tone, “Against a bunch of thugs like the ones we took out in Fresno?”
Again his friend shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe.”
They sat there together, watching the stars for a long while. Toke leaned a little more into Jamel, and he companionably moved his arm behind the big cat. With his paw resting on his lower back, he asked, “Have you told anyone?”
Toke made a quiet amused sound and laid his paw on Jamel’s thigh. “Have you?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then you know my answer as well.”
Jamel chuckled, “As much grief as your mother gave your sister about choosing my brother without her blessing…” He left the rest unsaid.
Toke admitted, “I’m not looking forward to telling her that I’m not interested in finding a mate.”
Jamel said, “But you have found a mate.” He felt the paw on his thigh tighten, and the big cat’s claws dug in a little.
“You know what I mean.”
Jamel offered, “Noth’in say’in we can’t find us a willing female.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Satisfy both your urges.”
Jamel observed the luminescence of the thinning moon brightening the forest. “Right now I have an urge to hunt.”
“It will only get us into trouble, and I thought you didn’t want trouble.”
Jamel stood up and looked down at his companion. “I don’t really care. That’s tomorrow.”
Toke corrected, “That’s in six more hours.”
“Come on.” He started down the path away from the commander’s cabin and towards the thicker stands of trees.
Toke got up and followed. He thought to himself, “At least this will wear him out.”
They stuck to the ground. The waning moon wasn’t so bright that either of them felt it would be prudent to take to the trees. Hunting from tree height was preferred, but they were large cats, and in the evening twilight, it was easy to misjudge the diameter of a limb and take a fall. So they worked their way south from the camp.
Jamel picked up the scent first. He paused in his movement forward and turned his mouth to the light evening breeze. He opened his mouth and lifted his tongue, taking in the scent of the creatures. Toke stepped next to him and waited. He felt Jamel’s paw brush his arm and Jamel’s thoughts filled his mind. “Wolves.”
Toke nodded and with his wetwire link to his companion, “And something else. It seems familiar in someway, I don’t know.”
“Should we investigate? There are deer tracks headed that way.” Jamel gestured southwest.
Off in the distance, they heard the howls of several distant wolves. Their calls were excited and full of the lust. Jamel gave an open-jawed grin and Toke. “Wanna take dinner away from the dogs?”
Toke grinned back and started forward. They moved quickly through the trees, finding that not only was the scent of the wolves getting strong but soon they could hear them easily. They seemed to have something trapped or cornered. Toke spotted the first of the wolves stocking around the base a low rise where some igneous rock pushed up through the forest floor. The wolf caught his scent and turned towards him. The female wolf growled her warning for him to keep his distance. He bared his teeth at the wolf and gave growl of his own.
Jamel arrived from a different angle, and the female wolf saw she was outnumbered and loped quickly away, but not before she gave a couple of barks to warn her pack companions of the new intruders. It was then that Jamel heard it. An angry scream from a large cat, somewhere up in among the tumble of boulders. The two Otokononeko sprinted up the sharp slope and jumped to the top of a large up thrust of rock. From this vantage, they saw the cornered mountain lion. Four wolves formed a half circle around her and took turns lunging at her, trying to get at her. Blood ran freely down from her shoulder, and her fur was torn along her back and flank. She was shielding her right hind leg against the conclave rock wall. Her ears were laid flat and her teeth shined in the ghostly night air.
Both Jamel and Toke could smell her desperation and fear as the wolves worked closer and closer to her. She was slowly bleeding to death and getting weaker with each passing moment. Jamel, crouched next to Toke on top of the rock stood up and gave a mighty yell. The wolves went silent and turned their attention to the two Otokononeko on the overlooking rock. Without consulting his companion, Jamel leaped from the rock down to the wolves. He pulled his his long bone knife from his belt sheath and brandished at the four wolves. Two males advanced on him, then stopped when Toke dropped down behind him. His own blade held out ready to stab or slash at the wolves. The lion took the opportunity to reach out and take a swipe at one of the distracted female wolves. The wolf yelp and jumped away.
Jamel used the distraction to lunge at the alpha male. But instead of slashing or stabbing the wolf and punched it in the nose, bloodying it. The wolf yelped and bolted into the surrounding wood with his pack quickly following. Jamel screamed a primordial sound after the pack and breathed a heavy sigh. Silence filled the rocky alcove, and both Otokononeko turned to see the lioness lying in a low crouch watching them. Jamel could sense her indecision between fight or flight. He sheathed his knife and slowly approached her.
“Hey Jamel, what are you doing. She’s going to attack you if you approach her. She’s a wild animal.”
Jamel didn’t bother to look at his companion as he answered, “Most likely. But she will die if I don’t try and stop the bleeding. She is already weak and can barely stand.”
As if in response to his words, the lioness wobbled on her legs and made a sudden effort to stabilize herself by widening her stance.
Jamel purred quietly at the mountain lion, “Easy girl. I’m not here to hurt ya. Easy now.”
She lowered her head and her ears flattened out. She growled her warning for him to keep his distance. Jamel responded by dropping to the forest floor and crawling towards her. He turned his eyes away from her and presented the side of his neck. He hoped she would take it as submissive and lower her guard some to let him approach without attacking him. He glanced back at Toke, who stood stock still with his blade at the ready.
“Toke. Put the knife away and relax. She won’t…” The rest of what he was going to say was interrupted as the lioness jumped him. Her impact rolled him tangent to Toke. Jamel used her momentum to continue that roll till he was on top of her. In his peripheral, he saw Toke coming to his rescue. He quickly ordered, “No. Hold fast.” One large front paw found his chest and her claws dug deeply into his fur, rendering the flesh apart. Fire, burned in four lines across him. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and grabbed her far front leg. He felt the blood soaked fur under his paw and grasped her injured leg and shoulder. He pulled her towards himself, rolling her, so her back and his stomach touched. He slid his legs on each side of her rear haunches and locked his feet across her soft belly fur.
The lioness scream her furry, but her strength had waned and with her blood loss soon gave up and stopped resisting. Together with their hearts beating hard and breathing coming in short ragged breaths, they waited for the other to do something. Jamel felt the lion’s body slowly relax as her life began to drift from her. A panic set in and he let his grip ease, and he moved to knee over the dying cat. She had been bit and scratch multiple times by the wolves and blood flowed readily from her right shoulder. The wounds that she had inflicted on him were already starting to close, and the blood flow had stemmed and almost stopped completely. He pulled his knife from his belt and forced the tip into the large vein that ran the length of the underside of his left arm. He pulled the tip up, opening a five centimeter cut along the vein. Blood welled out, and he placed his arm to her free flowing wound on her right shoulder. She briefly protested the contact, but in her weakened state, she settled for looking at him.
He continued to hold the lion to him and press his self-inflicted wound to her badly injured shoulder. He was aware of Toke standing over them both, and he took his eyes off the lioness, long enough to glance up at his friend. Toke asked, “You think your medanites will help her?”
He nodded and turned back to the lioness. Her golden eyes never left his. He could already see that they were brighter, some of the cloudiness that was there just moments ago had cleared. Her breathing had slowed, and he could feel her heart was not much faster than his.
Behind him, Toke said, “That was risky. She might have killed you if she had been stronger.”
“But she didn’t, and maybe I have saved her.”
Toke chuffed, “Maybe only for her to attack you.”
“She won’t now attack me.”
With much doubt in his voice, “You really think so? Jamel, she’s a wild animal.”
“Maybe. But I think she knows, I saved her from death.”
Then as to validate his statement, the lioness made a purring sound and laid her head down on his thigh with her eyes closed. Toke made an astonished sound.
Jamel said, “The medanites have put her to sleep, brother.” Jamel pulled his arm from her wounded shoulder and examined her injury. The medanites he shared with her had slowed the flow of blood, and his pressure to the wound had caused it to stop altogether. He checked the rest of her sleeping form. He was amazed at the fast response of the medanites. Their numbers were few in her system, but the nanoscale machines went to the task of stopping the flow of blood, stopping the pain, calming the beast, and putting her to sleep in only a few minutes of their entry into her body. He wasn’t even sure that it would work, but he had figured he had nothing to lose and she had everything to gain from his quick actions.
He felt Tokes paw on his shoulder, and he looked up at his companion. He said, “It’s about time we head back or keep going south.”
“I’m not leaving her here. The wolves would just come back to kill her.”
“Then what do you plan on doing?”
Jamel, instead of answering, gently lifted the lioness up in his arms and turned north towards the camp.
“Now wait, Jamel. The Commander will throw a wall-eyed fit if you bring her back with us. Besides, what is going to happen when she wakes up in our cabin?”
He answered simply, “She wake up.”
“You know, she only eats meat?”
Jamel glanced at his best friend, smiled. “Then we have something already in common.” The two Otokononeko climbed down off the small hill of igneous rock and north into the forest.