The tractor-trailer rig rolled smoothly through the night, the driver swinging it effortlessly through the gentle curves in such a manner as to not disturb the night, his load, or his co-driver sleeping in the back of the extended-size cab. It had been a while since he’d been up this way, and though he didn’t have any deliveries bound there, there was one place he had to drive by. As he pulled off the main road, a couple of coughs and a quiet sneeze told him that his partner was awake.
"Are we there yet?" the female skunk asked as she slid into the second driving seat.
"Nope," he replied. "Just checking on something."
"Or someone," she grumbled back. "One of these days I’m gonna steal your ‘little black book’ and find the dirt you have on all those people."
"It’s not always dirt," he advised her as he made another turn onto a lesser-traveled street. A high fence hid the estate from view from the road, but the gates stood open in the early morning hours.
The skunk eyed the open gates suspiciously as the truck slowed. "I take it that’s not normal," she half asked.
"No…" he agreed as he put the truck back in gear and turned it for the gate.
The walls continued inside the fence, forcing them to hold to the path leading to the main buildings. As he drove, she quickly and efficiently checked and primed their weapons; a pistol for each of them, her sub-machine gun, and his shotgun. While the Gene Wars were behind them, there were still those that had issues with mixed teams, and there had been a few times one had had to defend the other.
Just before a turn obscured the entrance, the backup cameras showed the gates closing. "Someone knows we’re here," he told her. "Just play it by ear."
"But you can’t carry a tune," she teased back as several multistoried buildings came into view.
The truck rolled to a stop in front of the main building. While the main doors were closed, a set of side delivery doors were opened wide, the light from within silhouetting a very large shape.
"What’s she doing out?" he muttered as his partner stared in shock. An eight hundred pound Bengal Tiger sat there, looking up at them. "New plan," he quietly said, even though there was no way the tiger could have heard him from outside with the engine still rumbling. "Put your guns away… all of them," he added when she hesitated. At her dirty look he added, "You can stay in the cab if you like."
"What are you going to do?" she demanded.
"Just taking a little stroll," he said unhelpfully. "There’s no way in heaven or hell she got out without a ‘little’ help."
"I don’t like it."
"Do you remember that truck stop in New El Paso?" he asked. She frowned as she nodded; they’d barely escaped with their lives. "This is much safer," he assured her as he popped the door latch. He stepped down from the cab and re-latched the door before turning to the waiting tiger.
"I know it’s a nice night, but shouldn’t you be in your cage?" he gently chided her.
The tiger slowly got up, exposing her heavy belly as she sauntered over to him and gave him a gentle head butt which, while gentle, still forced him back a step.
"At least she’s been fed recently," the skunk said from the open window.
"I don’t think that’s a meal," he replied as he scratched the tiger’s ear, earning a rumbling purr that rivaled the nearby truck.
"She knew you were coming," said a small voice from a nearby bush.
They watched a cattaur-looking creature of about seven or eight slip from behind the bush. Stepping up to the tiger, the cattaur gave her a hug and said, "Bedtime, Mother." The tiger had other ideas and twisted her head so she could catch his long shirtsleeve in her teeth, dragging him along as she turned.
"Ok Gipsy, I’m coming too, you can let go now," he suggested as he tried to free his shirtsleeve. Gipsy released the cloth but sidestepped, almost knocking the human over.
The cattaur turned to the skunk still watching from the cab. "You are welcome as well."
The side doors closed once the four of them were inside.
Noticing that the cattaur hadn’t activated the doors, the human commented, "I take it you had some help getting her out."
"Just my sisters," the cattaur admitted. "Blackie offered to mind the security station while the guard had her lunch. Zig-Zag helped me bypass the door sensors."
As if on cue, a wildly striped cattaur came around the corner and pulled a piece of foil off the sensor that told the systems the doors were closed. Zig-Zag then came over and gave the human a hung. "Hi Neal, long time no see."
"Hey yourself, kitten," he replied. "Say hello to my partner, Sally."
Zig-Zag gave the skunk a hug and said, "I am Zig-Zag, daughter of Gipsy.
"And I am Sunshine, also daughter of Gipsy," their guide told her. "We’re Chakats."
Sally frowned. "Okay, I’ll bite, what’s a chakat?"
Neal smiled and said, "Just another type of furball."
"Hey!" Sunshine protested, "We’re very special furballs thank you."
"Also full of themselves," Neal added.
Both chakats mock growled at him while Sally noticed that Gipsy just kept walking, as if she knew that it was all in fun.
As the chakats closed what had to have been at least six sets of security doors, Sally found they were in the biggest ‘den’ she’d ever seen. Mats for lying on had been piled in corners and some showed chew marks, both tiger and cub-sized tooth marks littered the edges. There were six pens, two of which were open. One was bare and looked unused, the other Gipsy headed for.
"I’ll settle her down," Sunshine told Zig-Zag. "You get them to the main section before Janet comes back from lunch."
"Too late!" a new voice softly laughed from a nearby speaker. "You’re busted!"
"Can’t have," Zig-Zag countered as shi looked at the hidden camera. "The alarms always go off when we get ‘caught’."
"No fair," the voice pouted, "you know I can’t wake everyone up unless it’s an emergency."
"Lucky us," Zig-Zag replied. To Neal and Sally shi said, "Come on before she changes her mind."
The lounge they were led to was filled with low chairs and taur pads. On one of the pads sat a pure black chakat, while a human woman sat beside hir. Zig-Zag gave the other chakat a dirty look. "You told!" shi accused Blackie.
"No shi didn’t," the human replied as she got up. "I’ve told you before that you might fool the security system, but you’ll never fool me."
"Sorry, Mum, but Gipsy gets really restless when she feels he’s near," Zig-Zag murmured.
Giving the chakat youth a hug, the woman turned to Neal and gave him a hug as well. "It’s been too long since you were last up this way."
"You know how it is, Kathy," he replied. "I go where I’m needed. I noticed you still haven’t filled that sixth pen."
"We just got lucky with that shipment you brought us. None of the others we’ve tried to get were as suitable as what we’ve got."
"I thought Gipsy looked like she was about due again," Neal suggested.
"Another week or two," Kathy admitted. "So… what brings you our way?"
"Just another load. As they’re just thirty minutes south of here, I thought I’d do a drive-by – only to see someone had left the doors open and the welcome mat out."
"Never mind the big guard kitty waiting at the door," Sally commented. "I’m Sally by the way."
Kathy gave Sally a hug as well. "I see Neal’s social graces haven’t improved any."
"Too old and stuck in my ways," Neal admitted with a grin. "Well, it was nice seeing you and the kittens again, but I need to get some sleep before we deliver that load in the morning."
"They’re not expecting us until noon," Sally pointed out, "and I want to know why you know about furs I haven’t heard of – never mind why a tiger supposedly knows when you’re around."
Kathy smiled at the skunk. "You mean he hasn’t told you about sleeping in a carrier full of tigers one freezing night when his truck heater had failed?"
"They were in cages," Neal threw in.
Kathy ignored him. "Or did he tell you that he woke up to find he’d rolled so his back was to one of those cages? And that Gipsy had snaked her paw through the bars and was holding him close to her?"
A new voice joined them in saying, "And have you ever told him that Gipsy tested the highest for empathy of the big cats he brought us? Or that cubs from her have stronger empathic abilities than the others do?"
"No, Charlie," Neal said giving the newcomer a firm handshake. "She just treats me like a mushroom, kept in the dark and covered in s…"
"Neal!" Kathy exclaimed. "Not in front of the cubs!"
"What?" Neal replied innocently. "You haven’t taught them that word yet?
"I know what word," Blackie said smugly.
"I don’t care if you know the word, just don’t say it," Kathy told hir.
"What word?" Sunshine asked as shi came in, having only heard the last few words.
"Shit," Blackie told hir before ducking under Kathy's swat.
"Bedtime, all of you!" Kathy told the chakats.
Neal deliberately misunderstood and told Charlie, "I see she’s still bossing you around."
"You get used to it," Charlie replied as Kathy glared at him. "Yes dear, going to bed now dear," he said as he too left the room.
Ruefully shaking her head, Kathy turned to Neal. "No need to sleep in your truck. Neal; we have a spare room – or two if needed," she added looking at Sally.
"One will do," Sally said. "I’ve taught him what happens if he misbehaves."
"I see," Kathy said with a grin. "Just don’t stink up our building please."
The room they were led to contained a bed large enough that anything but an equitaur would have called it roomy. Eyeing the bed, Sally said, "You will stay on your side, right?"
"Of course, my dear," Neal said in a snobbish manner. "I can emulate a perfect gentleman when the need arises." He then grinned as she slipped off her skirt to reveal white panties with pink butterflies. "It just never does," he added.
"Anything you say will be held against you," she threatened on seeing his grin.
"Tits," Neal said with a chuckle.
"What?" she demanded.
"You promised to hold whatever I said against me. ‘Tits’ sounded far safer than laughing at your little butterflies."
‘Bastard’ was the last word muttered in the room that night.
Neal was gone when Sally woke up, but she was far from alone. There were at least a dozen of those ‘chakats’ in bed with her, from the eight year olds she’d met just a few hours ago, to a pair of cubs that might has been three months old. One of the youngest was what had awakened her by working diligently to try getting milk out of her nipple.
"They always want to meet new people," Sunshine said from somewhere behind her.
"They or we?" Sally asked hir as she tried to free her breast from the little kitten. "Sorry kiddo, but I don’t have any milk for you."
"Ok, we like meeting new people," Sunshine admitted with a grin.
"What’d you do with that human I came in with?" Sally asked as she got up, looking for her top.
"Out in the pool."
The pool turned out to also be where the tigers took their morning dip. Sally found Neal in the deeper water as the tigers soaked in the shallows. As he skimmed leaves and small sticks off the water’s surface, he looked up and grinned. "Come on in, the waters fine."
Sally hesitated, but the chakats dragged her into the pool with them, the tigers ignoring the skunk among their cubs.
Next came feeding the troops, the older chakats helping feed their mothers as the tigers laid down to allow the youngest ones to breastfeed.
Neal and Sally were then led to the dining hall where they met up with Kathy and Charlie. After gathering a few items from the buffet, they joined the Turners.
With a gleam in her eye at the thought of getting a little ‘dirt’ on her partner, Sally asked Kathy, "How long have you known Neal?"
"About ten years now," Kathy admitted. "He delivered our tigers, and then showed up every few years to see how we’re doing."
"Gipsy wants him to come more often," Zig-Zag told them from the next table.
"So, he doesn’t have any real reason to be here, but you let him in anyway?" Sally asked, a little confused.
"As you’ve seen, one of our big cats does like him, and he’s harmless enough," Charlie said, stopping when he caught several of the chakats trying to choke back laughter. "What’s so funny?" he asked.
"It’s Neal," Sunshine told him. "He was thinking something was really funny."
While they’d been talking, a three-year-old cub had joined Neal. As he fed hir from his plate, Neal commented, "The night I delivered Gipsy and the others, it was storming pretty badly and, like last night, the Turners offered me a bed for the night. As Sally can attest to, I sometimes have trouble sleeping, and that was one of those nights. In the neighboring lab, someone had forgotten to log out of their terminal, and there I found why you guys wanted some oversized housecats." Giving the kitten in his lap a cuddle, Neal continued, "A new type of fur, lots of improvements, lots of potential; and possibly the most dangerous beast to roam the earth since man."
The cub had been watching him talk without any show of upset or fear. Shi watched as Neal slid his plate out of the way and allowed him to lift hir to the table, bringing them eye-to-eye.
Neal let hir rub noses with him before he added, "I just like to check from time to time to see how the great experiment is going."
"There’s something more," Sunshine said, feeling he was hiding something.
"Well… I might have added a gene pair or two to keep you from getting out of control," Neal suggested.
"There’s no way!" Charlie blurted out. "It takes years to even have a clue what you’re doing in a genome!"
"Let’s test that shall we?" Neal said as he grinned at the cub in front of him. "This one’s young enough that this is the first time shi and I have met, so shi doesn’t have any memory of anything I might have done on my previous visits. These beasts are going to be bigger, stronger, faster, and most likely smarter than most humans, so I just wanted an ability to beat one if it ever came down to a fight."
With one hand holding the cub’s lower torso to keep hir from moving, Neal held his other hand in front of hir with two fingers extended. The cub’s eyes widened when Neal started scissoring his fingers back and forth. Shi started to squirm and the fingers came nearer, and shi was giggling uncontrollably before they even had a chance to touch hir.
"You’re claiming you made them ticklish?" Sally demanded.
"I haven’t ‘tickled’ hir yet," Neal pointed out. "And Kathy did catch me playing a game on that terminal when she went to check on me the next morning."
Having felt like giggling when Neal was teasing the cub, Sunshine turned to Blackie with hir fingers scissoring. Blackie backed away quickly, fighting back laughter.
Breakfast was forgotten as the chakats had to try ‘the tickle’ on each other, the Turners looking on worriedly.
"Don’t worry," Neal assured them. "They’ll outgrow it."
"Did you really tweak our settings?" Kathy asked.
"I’m not, and have never been a genetic engineer. And somehow I doubt your program had a ‘more ticklish’ button for me to push."
"So how did you know that cub would know what you were going to do with your fingers?" Sally asked once they were back on the road.
"They’re empathic," Neal explained. "I have tickled the older ones, and their anticipation of what was going to happen set off the cub before I could even touch hir."
"So you really didn’t mess with their genes."
"If you say so."
Copyright © 2008 Allen Fesler Redbear1158@hotmail.com
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove and used with his permission.
Return to the Forest Tales main page.
Follow the paws back to the Chakat's Den main page.