When we think about first contact with other species beyond the stars we see only one of two outcomes. One is that it is a peaceful greeting where two cultures dedicated to peace and understanding choose to learn and trade with one another, the other is of an aggressive nature in which humanity is set against a threat, or is the threat.
The tree that had dropped onto the omtwy’s head unfortunately, had provided generations of Gapachu Shaman with fruit that aided in their soothsaying and medical concoctions, this had the repercussions of awarding Maverick with a number of very powerful enemies straight off the bat.
However, the omtwy that Maverick had also killed had been terrorising the Gapachu population for years and had been in the habit of smashing down trees, disturbing the wildlife, and going as so far as to run out deer and other herbivores.
Lone hunters by nature, the Gapachu had been unable to bring down this kill and regain their relatively peaceful territory.
In between two delicate situations Maverick was poked with a stone blade. “Not much fat on this one. Good, tough meat.” One of the panther-like inhabitants of this world said.
Having been awake for five minutes Maverick now got the jest of his situation. He was now hanging upside down within a chamber littered with guards and various other panthers looking at him as if deciding to eat him slowly or season him first.
Self–preservation is a powerful thing, so when Maverick had the chance to get out of learning the fine discipline of Gapachu cooking on an interment level, he took it. “You don’t want to eat me. I’m…I’m poisonous. I have Aids.”
The Gapachu knew nothing about Aids, but this poison remark did make them think of removing Maverick’s head as to lessen the risk of being bitten.
“So it does speak.” From across the room an old, blue furred bobcat watched Maverick with curious eyes. As the old cat turned to look at Maverick in finer detail, Maverick could not help but notice the large burn that covered the old woman’s face and lower back.
The Gapachu towered over the ancient woman. “Burned-One should not be in here. This does not concern Burned-One.”
The old cat did not budge, despite her size and age she seemed to have an inner strength and some authority in this place. “If it concerns Cali, it concerns Burned-One.” she ignored the Gapachu with the knife and sat in front of Maverick. “How does Grey thing know Scratch-Ear?”
This moment was critical to Maverick’s continued survival, one wrong mood and this cats would make kitty litter out of him. Despite this old one’s scars she was obviously the same species as the little fur ball and was interested in him.
“If I tell you, are they still going to eat me?” Maverick asked.
Burned-One cocked her head at Maverick. She was trying to figure out why the lips of this grey thing did not match the words he was speaking. “Maybe. But if Grey thing lies he will not be spared. The only thing stopping Gapachu from eating Grey thing, is Burned-One.”
The other Gapachu looked to Burned-One with surprise. The omtwy Maverick had killed would feed the tribe for a week and allow trade with the other tribes, despite it being crushed under a tree the meat was still edible.
The Gapachu were not savages that killed for no reason. They ate only when they were hungry and killed only when they needed to. Until the meat ran out, Maverick had better value alive than if he were dead. Now that it was established that he could communicate, things became more complicated.
It was clear that if Maverick wanted freedom then he was going to have to explain a few things. “I just sort of got stuck with him. He’s supposed to be my guide or something.”
Burned-One became sceptical, “Scratch-Ear is your guide?” she said this as if she had knowledge of Scratch-Ear’s lack of navigational skills. “And where does Grey thing come from?”
“Listen kitty cat, the name’s Maverick and it’s a long story.”
Disrespect shown and not tolerated, Burned-One slashed at Maverick’s face.
Several beads of ruby blood crawled down Maverick’s cheek, “Owe.” he cried, not liking how pain was a feature both of his bodies shared. “You bitch.” This insult was awarded with another swipe.
Burned-One raised her tail and growled in a menacing fashion. Allowing a simple insult or sign of disrespect to slip, even from a friend was a sign of weakness within the Gapachu. A carefree spirit would not stand in this harsh civilisation where survival was for the strong.
“This one’s name is Burned-One, Maverick. And she is Maverick’s only hope not to be served to Shaman hot and seasoned for destroying Piccelo tree.”
“Okay, okay.” Maverick shouted. “God damn it. I come from Ballarat.” In some way Maverick felt applaud with himself.
He had survived several beatings in his life from real bastards with muscle that wanted the name of his contacts but never once had never given in, but getting eaten by cats took a new spin on things.
Having taken interest, the feline’s ears stood straight at attention. “B…Bell…”
“Bell-la-rat.” Maverick said sounded out. “Ballarat. And don’t try getting me to point it out on a map. It’s a bit out of your neighbourhood.”
Burned-One was tempted to swipe at the grey vermin but was unsure if this was in fact a lie or the truth, and if she was going to swipe at everything that was questionable about this creature’s words she had a feeling that this Maverick would bleed out.
“Tell me everything. How Maverick came to be here, who Maverick is, and why… how Maverick met Scratch-Ear.”
It took surprisingly less time than Maverick thought to get where he was, even after explaining his failed love life which Burned-One did not appear to be interested in.
Talking about the events that had lead Maverick to come to this place had an therapeutic effect. The bottled up rage was still there, but slowly Maverick was returning back to his scoundrel like persona.
Everybody wanted something. For now these people wanted answers but when that was done then there was nothing to stop them from killing him.
“Then Maverick has to steal back blessed weapons from Cali warcheifs for this Sydney, or die?” There was amusement in Burned-One’s tone. The Gapachu were also amused at this absurd quest but had disciplined themselves never to smile.
“That’s the basic idea.” Maverick knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task. He had hoped that this world was filled with house cats that would be too intimidated by his size to put up much of a fight.
Now that he had learned he was in the Land of the Big Bloody Cats, cats that liked to shoot poisoned darts at people, and things became that much harder.
Burned-One shook her head and moved away from Maverick and this absurd talk. “One clumsy trader and a guide that got lost after hunting a deaf narsi? These are to be the ones that will kill the Cali warchiefs?”
The word kill was instantly picked up. “Woah, woah, woah.” Maverick said quickly. “Nobody ever said anything about killing. I’ll just talk to these Cali guys, find out what they want, and trade for the stuff they stole. I’m a broker, not a thief, or a murderer.”
Murder was not part of the job description. True it sometimes came up that you needed a bit of muscle for a sale, but murder was going too far.
A howl of hyena like laughter exploded out of Burned-One that the Gapachu near her stepped away. “Maverick knows nothing of Cali.” The elderly cat snarled.
The mystery was growing deeper and Maverick hated mysteries. Like the pawn broker he was, Maverick liked knowing everything about an item including its history. “They’re just jewellery. The only thing I have to worry about is the spear right?”
If the spear was meant for a doll then it would only be a replica, as far as Maverick knew about toys choking hazards were the main things parents were meant to be warned about.
“Oh yes.” Burned-One breathed. “The fire spear is something to worry about, but these are not simple beads and bone earrings.”
Maverick scanned the other occupants of the room, they did not find this situation as humours as the older cat. “What exactly am I up against?” It was perhaps the most sensible question he had yet to ask.
The bobcat sat back and admired the fool that came to be in such a predicament without anything but his sick covered clothes and a useless guide. “Fear not Maverick. When Burned-One tells shaman this, Burned-One doubts Shaman will push tribes to eat you.”
“Really?” Maverick blinked.
Burned-One went to exit Maverick prison. “Yes. Gapachu don’t eat mad things.”
After an hour or two when Burned-One had left Maverick was given a couple of slices of what he guessed was beef jerky, though the texture was not what he would connect to as beef.
It turned out that while the Gapachu were not vegetarians they had a knack for using fruit and oils from nuts to put a serious form of flavour in their food. Maverick had no idea if he was eating rat or dinosaur but the stripes of meat could definitely find a home on a supermarket shelf.
As Maverick was classified as a captive and not a guest of the tribe he was given enough food not to starve but not enough give him any ideas of escape.
The actual idea of escaping never crossed Maverick’s mind due to the fact that the people guarding him were one hundred pound killing machines that were armed with crude stone spears, some might have called him a coward but Maverick was wise enough not to give his new hosts a reason to eat his face off.
The next day at sundown Maverick was untied and brought before a council of sorts.
At first Maverick had thought that this was just one large tribe of leopard people that had a weird fascination with ancient South American culture, but things did not feel that simple.
Maverick had picked up enough of Melbourne’s gangs to see the varying different styles of decoration. Mohawks, red and yellow beads, bone nose rings, brands; each told of a different culture.
It was the same for the place the Gapachu lived in, it was neither a city or a town but looked more like those refugee camps they had on give a dollar a day advertisements on TV.
The clearing that Maverick had been forced to sit at was arranged in a courtroom fashion using logs and tree stumps, guards were positioned everywhere, and there was a sense of dread that hung in the air.
From outside the clearing the elders of the Gapachu tribes stalked out of the shadows and converged on Maverick in a predatory fashion. Was it feeding time?
Each of these cats moved and examined Maverick, they prodded his flesh, examined his ugly sausage like fingers, and checked his teeth. Maverick in turn was trying very hard not to piss himself at their forwardness. His eyes locked onto Burned-One that had sat upon one of the logs.
“Um. I thought you said you weren’t going to eat me.” He said.
The cats looked at him, some displayed shock while other drew their claws.
Burned-One’s shrugged. “Burned-One thought so to, but why give meat to Cali?”
Maverick gave the old rug a murderous glare.
An elder with a face full of bone piercings displayed a disgusted face. “No fangs, no claws, no tail, no fur. How did this ugly thing kill Omtwy?”
How about you go under a tree, give me and axe, and I’ll show you? Maverick kept his mouth shut. There was a difference between getting a overgrown house cat to scratch you and a leopard.
An majestic black leopard with the markings and decorations of somebody important stood in front of Maverick. This Gapachu seemed a grade above the others of his species in that he looked to have been well fed and well trained as a fighter. The term alpha male came to mind.
“Burned-One tells us that you wish to take back the warcheif’s blessed weapons?” This Gapachu spoke in a more typical, less third person fashion.
It was difficult to tell if there was learned men or women in this group of cats of if Maverick had been turned into some freak show attraction, or perhaps both. “Yeah. Um. I’m getting the idea that’s going to be a bit tough.”
A Gapachu with red beads snorted at this. “If we are to believe Maverick’s story. The Uula tribe asks for proof of strength.”
Maverick mentally moaned. He had seen this movie a hundred times before. He didn’t know why but you always had to kill the tribe’s greatest warrior to get an appointment with the chief. “Can’t you just let me go and I can grab my clients crap? It obvious you don’t like me or these Cali jerks.”
The Gapachu let out snorts, growls, and expressions of contempt.
“Burned-One told you.” Burned-One said to the leopards. “Maverick knows nothing.”
“Hey.” Maverick called back. “I just got here. And I’m not really up to being Tarzan of the jungle. So how about you tell me what the hell is going on here?”
The council looked about ready to strike Maverick down and eat him, only the alpha took pleasure from this creature’s demands. “You know nothing grey thing. You have stumbled upon a war. Those weapons the Cali stole from your master have swayed the balance of power in this area.”
Weapons? Was it possible that Sydney had been telling a lie when he said that he sold only doll accessories? At this point Maverick didn’t trust anything about what that squid head said. “Then let me go get them. Problem solved.”
“The problem is not solved.” The yellow beaded Gapachu snarled. “If Maverick fails to steal weapons and Cali learn that we allowed you to leave, the warchiefs come.”
And there it was, the true purpose of Maverick detainment. If these Cali were as powerful as and as feared they would not hesitate to seek revenge on anyone that tried to aid or allow Maverick’s actions.
Maverick lowered his head. “Let me take a guess why you’re not killing me. You plan on selling me out to the Cali.” That would just be Maverick’s luck, to be killed off before he had a chance.
Burned-One’s nails scared the log she was on, “The Cali are known for keeping their promises when it concerns pain.” she rubbed her face as to display proof of this concept. “If they find out that Maverick is here for their sacred weapons then Gapachu will be at war, and will all die.”
These Cali were turning out to be worse than anyone Maverick ever met in high school. From the corner of his eye he looked up at his map and saw that now there were green and purple dots covering the area he was in.
At least Sydney’s map was working but the hell good it was going to do for him.
From the map Maverick could tell that this alpha had a purple mark following him around. Whether this meant he was an ally or was undecided was still unsure. “Let me explain this to you so we are clear. I am a business man, not a fighter. I don’t go around bashing people up to get what I want. I get Cali weapons, my boss doesn’t kill me. Everyone’s happy.”
“No.” Burned-One growled. “No one is happy. Cali come here with fire spear, Gapachu die and enslaved. Burned-One die.”
Maverick did not like this. The only thing these people were interested in were killing one another and he had a job to do. He had no leverage, no supplies, and only a map in his head that could help. “What’s it you want me to do?”
The Gapachu with the piercings stared into Maverick’s eyes. “Maverick killed Omtwy. Maverick can do it again.”
It is an interesting fact that cats can not smile. Their basic set of emotions range from indifferent, pissed off, attentive, and really pissed off. But from what the Gapachu with the piercings displayed was as close to grin as Maverick had ever seen a cat get.