Dash, pinioned and helpless in the giant hand, struggled uselessly against a terrifying, unworldly strength, but could do nothing to keep from being hoisted up towards the gaping maw with its wet lips and giant white teeth.
Greater Than instantly took up weapons in both hands and advanced towards the creature, shouting. But Star grabbed his arm, yelling, “No, no, wait. It’s like she’s rubbing noses with him or something.”
“Noses? She’s trying to eat him.”
But it hardly mattered because there was nothing they could do. They watched the giant draw Dash up and brush his fur with those big, fleshy lips. After enduring a few more slobberings, scared but not harmed, Dash found himself cradled in forearms as big as himself, and being rocked like a kit that can’t get to sleep.
He stared up at the enormous face for awhile then, with careful timing, shoved downward to fall out of the bottom of the embrace and scamper over to his companions.
“It didn’t hurt,” he later told us all, especially his spellbound little fellows. “It was just gross. Okay, I was scared at first. I couldn’t even think about moving, then here come these teeth the size of fists! I could see inside its mouth, right down the throat! But then it just started like licking me with those lips, getting drool all over me. It was disgusting, but I could tell it was all right. I just kind of knew I’d be okay.”
The giant sat there awhile, ogling the three and obviously beckoning them to come closer, which even Star avoided doing. Then it looked around and got to its feet. It solemnly waved to them with one hand, a sort of reverse greeting. They all waved back, then it turned and trundled off towards a path amid the trees.
Dash glanced at Greater Than, but he was already following the little giant. And while she still felt oddly protective towards this huge being, Star told me, she was as much motivated as Greater Than by the need to see where it had come from, the circumstances in which it lived, and if they had discovered a threat to our well-being.
They followed along a path trodden in the woods, obviously used, but not frequently, by the huge natives. It was quite dark by then, but the giant walked steadily without apparent fear and our party followed with eyes alert and weapons handy. Dash was the first to spot the light.
It was a yellowish glow through the trees, almost like the yellow sunshine of this world, but small and localized. The native moved more quickly as she approached the light, forcing our relatively tiny party into a light trot to keep up. They could see her outlined against the glow as they moved, jogging along in the shadow she cast. Then they broke out of the trees and froze in awe at the sight of the building.
“It was just so enormous,” Star told me, her eyes wide at the memory. “Bigger than anything back Home. I just stared at it.”
“And the doors,” Dash told me in a hushed tone. “They were as big as a three story building on the Axis. These things are enormously huge.”
They lost interest in their little giant for a moment, staring up at the house. It was fifty body lengths high, Dash told me, and Star nodded in affirmation. “There was a door and two windows,” she said. “And three windows above them, a second floor. And on top of that a triangular wall with a small window. And all the windows were filled with huge slabs of glass.”
They told me the building was white with green trim. It was roofed with slabs of wood. There were smaller outbuildings. The light they’d followed was above the door, a glowing fixture like a shower font. Yellow, not bluish like our own artificial lighting, but obviously a fixture operated by flux.
Their little giant approached the door, and reached up high to open it. Dash, excited, pointed to the knob she used to access the house. A brass plate with a brass globe: so that had been the function of the artifacts they’d found at the door of the Ruins. The native started into the door, then stopped and looked down, examining its muddy fur and clothes and footgear. Coming to a decision, it pulled off the shoes and placed them carefully on a stone entrance platform to the house, then removed the red fur from its upper body. That created a stir in the little watchers at the edge of the woods. Removable fur! But then the giant continued, gradually removing various articles of fabric until it stood completely naked under the yellow light sconce.
“No fur at all!” Dash told me, still amazed at the discovery. “Just this plain, smooth animal, like an egg or eyeball or something. It must have had those things wrapped around it because of the cold since it had no fur.”
“She had no fur,” Star emphasized. Then turned to me and said, “Female, definitely. Unless they have more than two sexes here.”
“Or less,” I joked, but she was unaffected.
“A little female kit. Beautiful. All alone.”
“Unless there were more of them in that house,” Dash said, obviously echoing Greater Than’s estimations.
When the little kit, excuse me, the little girl, entered the building and closed the door, the light went out, but there was enough ambient light to see, once their eyes re-accustomed to the dark. Greater Than had scouted all the way around the building and Dash was quite impressed by what intelligence they had gathered. The side of the house away from the path they’d taken out of the woods was grander and somehow more formal than the first side. It had a wooden platform with a sloped cover in front, another door and more glass windows. There was a table on this porch, and two wooden chairs mounted on curved runners. And a much smaller chair made of some sort of woven wood. The chairs confirmed again that the denizens of the house were six times our size. On the table was a container of the kind we’d found in the Midden, but it was lighter and more rounded, the top still in place with a triangular hole. Dash studied the can, which was almost his own height but laying on it’s side. He stuck his hand inside and drew it back soaked with a pungent liquid. Before Greater Than could warn him, he sucked some of the fluid off his fur to taste it. He smiled at his scowling mentor and said it was good. Odd, because apparently most earthling kits don’t much like their first taste of beer.
A huge discovery, of as much interest to Ampersand once he learned of it as to Greater Than, was a colossal metal structure under an outbuilding, containing a vehicle sitting on four wheels made of odd, black material. Greater Than studied it, then pointed out the double track that led into the building, exactly the width of the distance between the two wheels. Dash had smiled and tapped his temple. They were getting answers to questions posed by the Ruins, but also many times more new questions to deal with.
Star had been teased by the smell of wood smoke and finally located it, a faint spume drifting out of a rectangular stone structure at the top of the house. She looked at it a moment and pointed it out to Greater Than. “You see what it is.”
He looked awhile and nodded. “It’s a channel for fire. The Ruins was a structure like this that collapsed, leaving that rockwork channel.”
Dash stared at it, dumb before the patterns of things falling into place. He whispered, “Big people, with big houses, that can move along those roads.”
But finally, it was dark and getting chilly and they were a very long way from the Settlement. And in close proximity to giant specimens from another planet. So they retreated down the footpath, moving almost by feel along the dark trail in the overhanging woods. Greater Than, always scouting any terrain he moved through, remembered where a fallen tree had created a shelter near the path and led them back to it for their “bivouac”. The three lay under the inclining trunk, Dash between them, but weren’t in the mood for sleep after all they’d witnessed and all it meant.
They eagerly discussed many entwining possibilities, risks, gains, and changes incumbent in their discoveries, but ultimately it came down to, What to do about it?
Greater Than reduced it to a list of priorities, the first of which was, “Should we tell anybody about this?”
Star had been impressed that he’d made a question, rather than trying to lay down some sort of security alert commands. And found it hard to make up her mind. She knew Dash would be dying to tell the other kits, especially Question, but might not see them for awhile. She weighed the possible risks of revealing that they were living on a planet inhabited by civilized giant carnivores and finally said, “Well, maybe we should tell Point. See what he thinks.”
“He’s the last one we should tell,” Greater Than barked decisively.
“What, last behind At and Stroke and Underscore and Euro?” she teased. “But Point knows a lot and he’s smart. Smarter than me, I’d say. And definitely smarter than you.”
Greater Than grumped about that a bit, but didn’t deny it. Finally he said, “Well, if you all want to make group decisions, I guess you have to know about it in order to decide. See what good it does when everybody starts gibbering out a whole pack of greedy, idiotic suggestions.”
“They’re giants,” Dash said, the hours of night not diminishing his awe in being snatched up and snuffled by a huge individual. “I think we should stay away from them.”
“Good thinking, Younger,” Greater Than told him in his matter-of-fact Trinchan manner. “And place lookouts over here.”
“It’s too far away,” Star said. “It would take them all day to get here.”
“True. Best thing would be to keep some pickets out in this direction.”
“Sounds good to me,” Star said.
“Me, too,” Dash said, sleepily and that was the last they spoke of it that night.
Star had been missed at dinner, but she’s hardly the sort that people spend much time worrying about. When she showed up the following afternoon, walking in with the Trinchan contingent, it almost seemed expected, or at least natural. There were the usual greetings–cool nods at Greater Than, warm nuzzlings for Star and the typical furpile brawl for Dash–and a convivial evening meal. But after eating, Greater Than and Point disappeared. I learned later that the saturnine pilot was being “briefed”, as you say, by Greater Than. I would have loved to have overheard that conversation.
But not enough to have missed Star and Dash coming to my dwelling for the chat I have been recounting here. I was spellbound and exhilarated as they told about their contact in a fairly mild, normal tone. I had thought I was far too old to have my universe suddenly expanded but this encounter did that, even more than the singular fact of my living on an alien planet. Dash sat close to Star as they talked, touching him at times, even nonchalantly groomed his ears as he jabbered about the implications of life among giants. I was struck by the affection she showed to the kit, almost as if they now shared some deep bond. Finally she said, off-handedly, “And of course Dash is just dying to tell his gang of furball brats about almost getting eaten by a monster.”
Dash jerked to his feet, his pleasure in giving information to an Older vanishing at the reminder that he had stories for his friends that topped anything previous, even Question’s adventures in the woods. He was gone like a squirt.
Star spoke more about the giants, answering all my questions in whatever detail I demanded. She had already put together quite a few things, such as the metal vehicle being the model for the toy car we’d made a bathtub out of. Some were valuable insights, some conclusions I rejected as possibly blocking my mind of other, future explanations. But oddly, she seemed almost distracted as she told me her account of the most remarkable events in our lifetimes.
Once I ran out of questions and poured more mint burdock tea, she tried to articulate one of the reasons she had sought me out, instead of going with Greater Than to Point, to whom she was much closer.
It had something to do with her reaction to the little girl alone in the woods, following her home like a guardian and watching her stand naked on the back porch taking a quick look back at the woods before going inside to her people.
But more with awakening that morning. It had been one of those chilly nights we’d been having more of lately, and she woke to find the three of them huddled together under their log, Dash snuggled up to her soft fur, and Greater Than with a protective arm laying over them both.
She was asking about feelings, about what passes for psychology in a race with very little emotion and almost no subconscious. The trio clinging together under the log had awakened some sort of response in her, something not at all typical of our social patterns. A feeling, she said, of completeness, of belonging. “It just felt very… I don’t know… right. Like this is the way I’ve wanted things to be, these three people together. And one is this big dumb lug and one is this terrific little hairball. A couple of Trinchans… and me. But it just seemed the way things should be or something. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Sorry to bring it up.”
There was little I could tell her, other than it was hard to predict the way we thought, much less felt, in such a new environment and with such unprecedented circumstances. She stood to leave, making a graceful gesture of thanks for my hospitality and ear, which I returned, awash in all she had told me. At the door she turned and said, “There is something in the air in this place. It’s changing me. I’m turning into a resident here, an adopted native or something. Nothing feels the same. I seem to be going wild.”
I smiled as I said that it suited her well, and she was gone. Leaving me with a vast heap of thoughts and questions but for some reason the first one that struck me was the idea that I had just heard childish excitement, warrior warnings, and concern over odd emotions… all in reaction to what I saw as staggering: the first contact between us and another intelligent race. The first such contact for your people, as well, I now know.
Much later it struck me that the first actual contact between two races from different worlds had been between two children. And that it had involved the suspension of fear with a gesture of help.