An orderly wheeled me on a gurney to the clinic's back porch for my afternoon fresh air treatment: (air is free, and nothing is too good for our fallen heroes, etc.) I felt as well as I had in weeks, mostly in control of my degenerating carcass. The late, low sun warmed my thin fur, none of my joints hurt, and, miracle of miracles, he hadn't pinched my limp-hanging tail in the side rail when he lowered me. Only one more thing could make it a perfect day: If I could just raise my head enough to see the sunset. But while I fumbled for the bell to summon the attendant to elevate the bed, it occurred to the well-developed, paranoid part of my subconscious that that there were no other patients on the porch and I could no longer hear any staff. The distinctive, sharp scent of someone chewing juniper berries: I knew one Diyim'yi with that habit. The place was empty because he was there.
"Commander Dornek," My voice rasped, "Quit hiding and come over here where I can see you. You make me nervous out of plain sight." There was the sound of spitting and claws tapping on the wood deck. With some effort I was able to turn my head slightly toward him.
"Relloc, you're looking much better." He sounded insincere, as always. "And I'm a civilian now, just visiting an old comrade from the war." Dornek had been the controller of an audacious (and unfortunately for me, dangerous) mission: to infiltrate the Nurnkh forces by transferring agents into their jaguar bodies, using a captured neural analyzer.
For three months, I lived as a cat; spying for the resistance. The operation was a complete success, although none of his agents survived. Me included. At the end of the war, when they tried to transfer me back into my old body the combination of poor recording quality and deterioration of the flash-frozen corpse left me like this. He parked me here, at the last, where I'd be quiet and controlled until I died. Now, five endless years later, here we were.
"You're a Liar. I'm almost dead. You'd have found that out, even if the staff here wouldn't tell you themselves, before you bothered to show. I'm flattened out like a squirrel hit by a bus, and you're wasting one of my sunsets. So spill it, what do you want?"
"Have it your way. But, I've got a new mission for you. Includes full priority on clone replacement." He was a brilliant spymaster, but I had never detected any sense of morality in him, only expediency. I wondered who he thought needed killing badly enough to dig me up.
"Crap. What's the real story? I know there's no time to clone me before something serious shuts down. You want to stuff me into some Popsicle you've already got on ice. Probably so you can shoot someone and have me replace him. Can't be legal. The current government would never let you do it. What's the real story?"
"It's an infiltration job, but not like you think. Fleet authorized this one."
"Fleet! Since when are they political?"
"Everyone is political, these days. This is more important than that. We've found a new bunch of aliens. Not as dangerous as the jaguars, but close. We need someone who can get inside, find out what they're really up to. You infiltrated Nurnkh…"
"…. and I was the only one who got out alive, if you can call this living. Half of what you got back is still cat, inside my skull. Only Diyim'yi who can get high on catnip. No telling what else you'll scramble up inside my brain, this time. I oughta say no while I'm still halfway normal."
"Just say yes, and it's done."
"Of course I'll do it. They tell me I'm losing motor control, popping synapses every day. I won't be worth much if you wait too long. How soon can you scan me?"
"We did it while you were asleep. I just wanted to find out if you could still think. That mixed-up brain of yours is the only part worth salvaging, in my opinion. You're still lucid, we know you're a smart-ass, and more importantly, you're lucky." This was a change, Dornek had never complimented anyone. When the first part of what he said sunk in, it was already too late.
"Goodbye, Relloc. You never had this conversation." The last thing I heard was the 'snap' as Dornek broke my neck.
The patient lay quietly; every once in a while a limb would twitch, or there'd be a change in breathing. Now, though, someone was in control inside that brain; the patient exhibited normal unconscious aversion to stimulus, over and above mere automatic response. I eased the secure ward's one large male nurse back into the room with a push of my paw, orders to stay in the dim room until the patient showed signs of waking, and handed him an old magazine. I went back to the nurses station and appropriated his desk to read through the patient's record, a luxury I not had when I'd been called to the emergency room.
Diyim'yi, male, late-twenties. I skipped over his physical characteristics; the death certificate for his previous body was stapled to the inside jacket. Noted briefly the severe, near-terminal nerve and muscle deterioration, but that the cause of death was 'accidental.' His family background (marked boldly 'Do not contact next of kin'), schooling and service records were next. Typical of his age: Village occupied by jaguar troops when he was a young child, given only the basic reading and math of the abbreviated wartime program, possibly augmented in one of the secret schools run by the resistance. He certainly learned the other lessons they taught, I mused. Graduated with high honors, in fact.
Recruited into a local resistance cell at age eleven, worked as a courier, conducted minor sabotage, then, as a teen, joined an assault team. He had an aptitude for patrolling and night action. By sixteen, he was regular army, at eighteen the record ended, stamped "Sealed by GHQ Intelligence." A single page after that described his discharge at the end of hostilities with full disability, and the award of the Wreath of Merit. A war hero, with the highest decoration, less one; but I had never heard of him. Dead by accidental causes.
His surgical team had been accident prone, too. When I was called from my ship, I was informed that a brain transfer team headed by no less than the renowned Doctor-Professor 'Ip Pok, had perished in a plane crash while enroute to this hospital. The patient, lying in the next room, survived because he was in a second plane. I was to finish the procedure, using the experimental neural scan tape multiple-write method I'd developed. It had only been used twice before, under emergency conditions while I was serving as a ship's surgeon in deep space. With the demise of the Doctor and his team, I guess I'm the expert now. I'm no fool, and I'm not an innocent, anymore. When this procedure is done, I'll drive, not fly, home.
The call light lit with a muted buzz, and I rose from the desk and walked back to the room. Now that we'd made it this far the procedure was almost certain to be a success, but I wondered about the patent's reaction when he discovered who he'd become.
"Wake up." I ran a paw pad gently against the bridge of the patient's nose, nodding approvingly as it wrinkled. Conscious. "You're all right. The transfer was a success."
"Wa…." Indicating the water bowl and my own muzzle, I had the nurse wet the patient's lips. He trickled a little bit between them, wetting the tongue. "I don't feel right," the patient finally said. The nurse looked at me with helpless incomprehension, not understanding the sounds of that flat face trying to speak our language, a skill that is much easier if you have a muzzle. I understood, since I'd heard it before.
"Your using a new body, one that your neural pattern was not designed to operate. It may take a while for you to gain full control, especially since you experienced such an extended period of paralysis. Right now, I want you to keep your eyes closed while I remove this blindfold. The lights are off, so you won't see anything, anyway." In the dim light, I could see Relloc peeked through his eyelids, anyway. I waved for the nurse to slowly lighten the room, while simultaneously removing the gauze covering his eyes. "Tell me what you can see."
"I'll try. Nothing, yet." Clearer diction, lips peeled back slightly to avoid slurring. The room became lighter. I could clearly see the gray shades of the bedspread.
"Now what do you see?"
"A patch of light, a highlight reflecting off that metal rail. You, a doctor, obviously. Wearing one-piece scrubs, Exploration Corps logo, I think." As the light in the room reached halfway, he seemed to be having some problems, blinking; and I caught the one unrestrained arm before he rubbed his eyes.
"What's the matter?" He struggled weakly and then lay back.
"Something's wrong with my vision, the pink gray of your fur just took on a garish shade, and all tinting is oversaturated, different. My eyes aren't working right."
"Yes, they are. You just can distinguish more colors than before, or so I'm told. We expected that. Do you know what this transformation has done to you?" Time for truth. I held up a small mirror with one paw, bending forward his head at the neck with the other. "The body you now have is not a Diyim'yi. Did you know this was going to happen?"
"No, but somehow I'm not surprised." He even smiled, slightly, suddenly all tension gone. "So what am I this time?" Not the response I expected.
"You have been transferred into the mind of another species, a member of the ape family, what is called a human. They have no close relatives on our world, all have been extinct for thousands of years, though not elsewhere in the galaxy, as we have recently discovered."
With the mirror, Relloc could see part of his face. What little fur there was appeared no more than light fuzz, white, almost transparent. He slowly lifted one arm and felt the nose, that tiny beak-like protrusion holding the nostrils, on either side of sunken eyes. Longer bristly, freshly shorn hair began some ways above the brow.
"Tell me, have I been shaved, perhaps for medical reasons?" He lay awkwardly flat on his back, trying to roll to what I'm sure he thought was a more natural position on his side or belly. "Is it safe to move? Am I a healthy, whatever this is, thing? What should be normal?"
"As far as I can tell, and to the extent of our records, your body is a perfect clone of an immature female. It was force-developed, so we cannot be certain, but you appear to be between 14 and 16 years of age. You ought to be able to do whatever a girl your age would do naturally. Autonomous and reflex responses tested normal while you were unconscious, so let's get you standing, and find out."
"I'd like to see that. I haven't stood without help for a lot of years. Wait a minute-Immature FEMALE …!" He rolled to his side anyway, tried to force his toes to grip the sheets and propel him upright, failed (too long, backwards bending legs flopped out behind) was able to get one foreleg braced on the corner of the bed rail and raise his upper body. He looked at what was exposed under the bedclothes , almost certainly seeking the missing appendage males house their brains in. I'd have to think of her as a 'her' now, and so would she. More readily visible were the two large teats placed ridiculously far forward, directly over her lungs. Again, like a male, they were the second things she noticed. "I thought you said immature. This body looks like a nursing female."
"If you achieve that state, our research says those will become much, much larger. You've passed puberty, so it could happen. Trust me, you are a normal human girl."
"Have you ever met one?"
"Yes." That is one of the reasons I was picked to finish your procedure after Doctor 'Ip Pok had her unfortunate accident. When you are ready, you will be introduced to some humans and you can see for yourself."
"No doubt. Has anyone told you why this was done to me? Have you been told anything?"
"No. The Fleet sent me, on loan from the Corps (as you surmised) and I assume they are footing the bill. I didn't know there were any human clones available, let alone one as mature as yours appears. I assume this was done for a reason, and I hate to speculate why."
"It might not be safe, come to think of it." I shivered, thinking of 'Ip Pok.
"Nevertheless, in the absence of instructions to the contrary, I intend to rehabilitate you and adapt you to this new form. I'll be bringing in some outside experts to teach you the skills you'll need."
"You may not know it, but I'm not without skills."
"I mean to teach you how to be a young girl. Tell, me, Relloc; can you accept this? You're probably going to be like you are now for the rest of your life. It isn't going to do you any good pretending to still be male." I watched his face as he answered.
"I don't feel any difference, yet. Too soon for me to know. But I know one thing that's different: I'm alive, now. I was dead for a long time, for years, I just hadn't been buried yet. So bring on your shrinks, your counselors, your what-have you's. We'll just have to see how it goes." She finished standing, tried to take a step, swayed once, then sat back abruptly against the metal side of the bed. She tried to make a yip, then stopped, wondering. She reached behind and felt her rump. "Hey! Where's my tail?"
Time passed. I expected someone from the Directorate to brief me on whatever mission I was being groomed for, but no one came or inquired besides the medical personnel. The entire ward was empty, a good isolation technique: where were my handlers? In my previous, damaged state, I'd completely missed the human's arrival. I decided I'd better do my own research. At my request, the staff brought everything that was available. I eagerly watched the last few years' newsreels and read the reports. They were fascinating creatures.
Doctor Plaksa kept me in the ward for almost four days, checking to ensure I adapted to the new body. She taught me basic human care and feeding, as it were. I seemed unnaturally cheerful and active, and I was worried I was being drugged. She assured me it was normal behavior for my biological age; that I wasn't receiving any drugs besides nutrient supplements in my diet. I had no way to tell if she was lying. She seemed a straightforward person, so I just accepted it. As a result, I couldn't take seriously the extraordinary circumstances of my change, let alone shake off my good mood. Everything was new, exciting, and I was lively. Eventually, my behavior began to annoy even the patient doctor.
"Relloc! Come in off that balcony, It's not really meant for anything but show. I don't know how you can bear to sit right near the edge, it's almost five meters off the ground."
"Yes, mother." Perching was a residual feline trait I'd kept after the last transfer; it seemed to have survived into this body. I was well equipped for it. Holding the railing with one strong hand, I began to lean toward the edge. My new body balanced upright on its hind legs better than any canine or feline, and my upper torso had tremendous strength. If I wanted to (and I didn't, just then) I could have supported my whole weight from the grip of one paw. Or hand, as the other humans preferred to call their forepaws.
It became obvious I was going to be large when I achieved my full growth. Already, I was heavier than the average adult vixen, bigger than many smaller males. With a program of exercise, I would be stronger, too. That (and color sight) almost made up for the inability to run on all fours, my poor sense of smell, or near deafness. But I wasn't going to develop much further stuck in this hospital. I began making overtures to the doctor.
"I'm tired of being cooped up in here. I need to do something." Plaksa cocked her head and looked at me. She seemed to be comparing my progress to some mental blueprint. I guess she decided I'd passed, because she readily agreed.
"Then we'd better get you dressed and ready. You've done all you can here. I want you to meet some people who can help, in the capitol."
"So I finally meet whoever paid for all this."
"No." She projected a sincere puzzlement, I don't think she was lying. "We think whoever authorized this was either killed or arrested in the recent political infighting. It might have even been a rouge project of Doctor Ip' Pok, although I don't think so. The present Council unanimously agrees the clone, let alone your conversion, would never have been approved." She held my broad, pink paw, gently in her own smaller fur-backed one, her sharp claw-tips pressing lightly into the smooth skin. "For the last time: There is no 'mission.' I have agreed to help you adapt to your present physical age and gender, that's all. I know you're background, but I doubt there will be employment in your previous line of work until you are older. You need to accept that. The people I'm taking you to can help, and they are my friends, doing a favor. Be nice."
I found myself giving her a hug. The extreme sensitivity of my entire skin made touching another person's fur extremely pleasurable. A strange effect: At first, I wondered if it was a reaction of my previously male libido, but any fur produced similar results. It didn't seem sexual, although I wouldn't know what a sexual response might be for this body. Maybe I was as aroused as I could ever get. Thoughts like that worried me much too frequently. Maybe I did need the shrink they'd offered.
"Well, let's go. I'm dressed." I was wearing more clothes than her: A bulky shirt and trousers against the early autumn chill. Coverings over my feet; socks.
"Hah. You'll never convince anyone you're a girl, never mind a human." She went over to the wardrobe and grabbed out some of the extra clothing I hadn't worn yet, tossed it to me. "Put these on. Then, we'll go. You need help." She helped me into the outfit, including several undergarments I'd managed to avoid thus far.
We took the regular express train to town. While I got a few stares from older Diyim'yi, probably veterans like myself; surprisingly, most people were just curious. They'd either seen a human on TV themselves, already, or met someone else who had who bored them to tears telling them about it. The doctor was beside me, wearing her Corps' insignia, and everyone assumed she was my handler.
From the station it was a short walk in public. Again, I was amazed at the acceptance of the crowd; one male, gesturing distractedly in conversation with another, accidentally ran into me, apologizing profusely. We dropped off my belongings at a hotel where the doctor and I would stay until more permanent lodgings could be found. Then we continued on, ending at an apartment near the University. She scratched at the door, which was answered by a young, well-mannered female coyote from Alwroo. She hadn't reached her full adult growth, but had the stockiness characteristic of her species, and was losing her gray cub pattern. She smiled shyly at me, and greeted the doctor.
" Hi, I'm Three Moons. Marie got me excused from class early to meet you. She got tied up at administration, and Jena is over at the embassy till late tonight, so I'm making dinner." She looked me up and down one more time, then tentatively put a paw on my arm to usher me into the small apartment. "Hi! You must be Relloc."
"Hello." The room was small, cheaply furnished, but clean. It showed signs that the occupants had suddenly seen a sharp increase in their standard-of-living: a new sofa and matching loveseat dominated the room. The smell was feminine, even my poor nose could tell; natural dried flower scent overlaying a vixen's musk, with something else besides. My hind-brain said 'cat,' and sniffed again, appreciating the smell; (another left-over from my previous identity), but I dismissed it as impossible. We settled onto the couch.
"Don't worry about us," Plaksa apologized, "I wasn't able to tell Counselor Corbett just when we'd be here." Three Moons giggled as she said that.
"She makes us call her just 'Marie,'" she said. "Says the title makes her feel old."
"Marie looks much younger than she really is, you will understand how that might seem." She looked meaningfully to me. "She has secrets, just like you do; and it wouldn't do to have them made public." This pricked up my ears. (Except, they refused to do anything more than just slightly twitch. Plaksa said the muscles were undeveloped in a normal human.) I thought about what the doctor had said. So, maybe this Marie was a spy, too? She continued, "Marie and her roommate are the best experts on humans that we have. Both have lived with them, in fact."
We spoke casually with the young coyote while she prepared a stew for supper. As the pleasant smell filled the room, there was a scratch at door.
"Could you let them in?"
"Them?" I hesitated with my hand on the handle. I could hear several young voices with strange accents outside.
"It's the study group. We were all classmates of Marie and Jena; even though they both got to graduate early, most of us are still in school. We meet here every week. I told them you were coming. They'd love to meet you."
Shrugging helplessly at Plaksa, I opened the door, almost shutting it again at the sight of the alien canines outside. There were two more Awlroo, an enormous W'parl (The wolf was huge compared to a normal Diyim'yi, perhaps 120 pounds! While she outweighed me, I was interested to note I was tall enough to look her in the eye.) Two more vixens completed the group. They all greeted me enthusiastically, none seemed surprised to see me. They spread out and helped Three Moons, piling their schoolbooks along one wall, rearranging the furniture and setting the table. Doctor Plaksa seemed bemused by the busy youngsters.
Dinner was ready just as Marie arrived home. Her age was misleading, she appeared no older than her friends, about twenty, but with obvious maturity and presence. They clustered around her, asking about 'her tests' and it was a moment before Plaksa and I could say hello.
It turned out that Marie had been to a doctor to confirm her pregnancy. She was well pleased with herself, and accepted Plaksa's gentle chiding for seeing another doctor with good grace. The girls fluttered around her, and I had a sudden realization that this could happen to me: I was momentarily thankful there weren't any other humans on the planet. Not that I was likely to ever have that kind of contact with one, anyway.
The last of the students had just left, and we were finally talking alone with Marie, when the door opened yet again. A large M'raeenn female backed into the room. The lioness was gorgeous; the ghost cat in my brain drooled, admiring her posterior as she spoke to someone across the hall. Great. Not only has my gender been scrambled, but also I'm apparently still hardwired as a feliphile. At this rate, we'll probably find out I can physically only perform with a jaguar. I wondered if it was too late to re-record my personality all over again.
Jena, once I stopped staring at her body, turned out to be a very intimidating person. Not just her sheer size, but also her seemingly absolute confidence. She had no doubt that, not only would she be able to teach me the human's language, but that she would have me behaving as a proper young woman in no time. I wished her luck: I was thinking most improper thoughts, and my body complained about its lack of hardware to act upon them. It turned out she'd be my primary tutor: Marie apparently had a schedule conflict that would take her out of town for several weeks. I managed a hug from each of them, before we left for the hotel.
Late, late that night, I got out of my bed and fished around inside the pocket of my jacket, retrieving the slip of paper I'd felt placed there by the anonymous person who'd bumped me on the sidewalk earlier. It contained my codeword, and a phone number. Now, I need only find an unobserved moment to call for instruction. The codeword proved there was a mission running at last.
"So it's official?" Marie and I wandered around the apartment, putting away the last of the debris from the girl's visit. Plaksa and her charge had gone, leaving us time to catch up on our own affairs. The mother-to-be had somehow arm-twisted the Corps again.
"Yes. I'm going back to Earth, for a while anyway. A chance to see Dave, let him get used to the idea of fatherhood. Even if it's of the absentee sort."
"Then you've definitely decided you're coming back here?" Marie nodded. She had agonized whether or not to raise the kits on Earth ever since she decided to have them. It was good she'd finally made up her mind. "The Corps must love that. What did you do to persuade them to fund the trip?"
"It's the student exchange program, again. I'll help Dave and Chessec find candidates: if we concentrate on the hard sciences, heavily weigh the group toward grad students, they'll go for it. You could almost smell the research folks salivating. Two months ought to be enough time for that, and my pregnancy won't be too far along to travel. I'll be back long before I show any symptoms."
"We don't call them 'symptoms', dear. It's not a disease. You meant 'signs.'" She laughed.
"'Signs' implies a miracle. I know where this kit came from, and it involved all-too physical means." Smiling to herself, she was momentarily lost to the conversation. I shoved the couch back into place, and started making it up for my bed. Still holding one cushion, she mused, "This will be a tough balancing act now, between Dave and Chopka. Distance is my best ally, but if Chopka commands the mission back to Earth, do I sleep with him enroute?" I lifted the cushion from her paws, throwing it to the bed.
"It's bedtime. You've got another meeting first thing in the morning, and I've got to fit Relloc into my already busy schedule. When am I going to have time to teach 'her?' Between the jaguar cubs, the lab, and His Excellency, my ticket is full."
"Take her along. You know that total immersion would be the best way, but that's impossible. Give her on-the-spot correction, speak to her in English: let her lean to read while you're doing translation. Put her to work in the nursery with the cubs. Maybe there's some little bit of maternal instinct that comes along with that body. Plaksa says Relloc needs opportunities to feel female, that she's still going around with a male's perspective on life. You might even take her to spend some time with His Excellency's harem. -On second thought, probably not that. That lion might scare her into celibacy."
"Oh, Grauwl-Chorff is nothing but a sweet pussycat. You're just jealous he never offered to bed you," I teased.
"Jena, he's five times my size. Everywhere." She held her paws an obscene, but nearly to scale, distance apart. I giggled and flopped down on the bed.
"Yesss… ,and with that happy vision, I'm going to sleep."
Things picked up speed at that point. The Corps decided that not only was Marie going back to earth, but to send the whole crew, too. That meant Plaksa and Mitzep were going. We had a farewell party with the students, (I had a private farewell party with Mitzep) and moved Relloc into Marie's room. Finally, after everyone hugged and kissed on the shuttle pad, she and I were left alone together, standing on the windswept concrete.
"I'd like to be going with them," Relloc remarked. We walked back to the subway station together. "I want to see what Earth is really like."
"You're not ready by any stretch of the imagination. We're not as accepting of the strange as your people. You don't speak any recognizable language, in fact; to an untrained listener, we are both yipping and growling like dogs. At best, you'd be locked up as insane."
"I know your people aren't very sophisticated, but these humans-if they're as advanced as all this stuff I'm studying says…." Relloc was tuning me out again. I decided to spread a tiny bit of the truth, and looked around for anyone who might overhear us.
"Relloc. You can't tell anyone I said this: I know what I'm saying, because I was born and raised on Earth. I lived there almost my entire life. Trust me. If I went back, I'd end up in a cage, and you'd be in jail, or worse, the first person you approached. It's not safe, until you know how to blend in. I'll do my best to teach you what you need, but it's going to take time."
"I'm at your disposal, madam." She gave a courtly bow, copied from some film Dave had left.
"That's wrong, for example. Well-bred ladies curtsey." I tried to demonstrate and failed, laughing. "I'm not built right for that one!"
"You're built fine." She blushed, started to retract the statement. I'd seen Relloc eying me when she thought I wasn't looking, and had some suspicions as to the cause. I was about to push her off with another joke, when her expression changed; something over my shoulder was serious. "Jena, I don't like the looks of those two over there by the station entrance. Let's turn left here."
We took a side street. I looked back as we turned. If I had to guess from their haircuts, I'd say they were gang members. This was bad: The dockside gang in particular would kill me on sight; if they thought they could get away with it. I told Relloc, and she nodded. She didn't seem too worried, more cautious. We walked quickly toward the next intersection, looking back to see if we were being followed. We were.
"We can't outrun them. You humans don't run fast enough, and I can't run far enough. I can take them both if they let me get close, but no one is going to be stupid enough for that after last time: they'll be armed."
"Then this falls in my department. Follow me!" Relloc took off, and I jogged after her. I hoped she knew I only had a short sprint in me. We ducked into the next side street. There was a small park, where a street vendor was selling sliced meat, with no customers. Relloc charged the cart, and the vendor, unimpressed by the girl, stepped out in front to fend her off. When I let loose a medium weight roar, he reconsidered, fleeing in panic. Relloc looked over his cart, then borrowed a small knife and the paving stone that braced the wheel. "Hide in that tree over there, and I'll hide behind this. We'll surprise them. You jump on them once I've knocked their weapons loose. Hurry!"
"I can't climb! You've got me mistaken for some other cat." Relloc cursed and dashed toward the tree herself. I ducked down behind the cart. I waited, listening for the sound of the two foxes' breathing. I guess I'd just have to hope I didn't get hit anyplace vital, and was still in good enough shape to finish them. I prayed Relloc stayed silent: Diyim'yi, like their vulpine ancestors, almost never look above eye level. The first fox rounded the end of the cart, 12 feet away, holding what looked like a sawed-off shotgun. He saw me just as I roared my best effort. I tensed to leap, but his shotgun was already coming to bear. I wasn't going to be able to do it, but I leaped anyway. The knife struck him handle first in the shoulder. He stumbled, stunned, and I almost overshot as he fell, but was able to roll and snag his clothing, bringing him down with me. We tumbled twice, and as I prepared to disembowel him with my hind legs, Relloc yelled my name.
"Just hold him, I got the other one!" I stood on the fox, my toes splayed, my weight pressing the claws deep into his skin. I looked around, saw Relloc climbing down from the limb, the other fox unmoving; face down beside the paving brick. She searched his body, relieved him of his pistol, cleared the shotgun and whacked the open breech sharply against the paving stone before throwing it aside. "What do you want to do with this one?"
"Well, the authorities say I can't eat them, so we'll just have to let him go. I rolled my weight on the balls of my feet, ensuring the claw-marks would be deep and hopefully, permanent. Picking him up by his collar, I told him, "The last time was a court of honor. If you want to make this personal, I'm sure we can meet in the ring, one-on-one. Tell your boss I'm getting tired of seeing you people away from the docks, and might decide to do something about it." I dropped him next to his partner, and we left.
"Relloc, that was a pretty good throw with the knife. Thank you."
"I meant for it to skewer him, I'm not used to this body, I guess. I'll tell you what, though: I threw that paver harder than I've ever thrown a rock before. These new arms are really something."
"You might be safer on the streets back on Earth than I thought, but, remind me to tell you what the English phrase 'throws like a girl' means. Let's get home."