by Rebecca Tufts
The sun slowly came up through the trees. It let its warmth filter down through the budding branches of the trees. Birds sang in the air, letting the breeze carry their song to any that would listen. The creature working in the fields did listen, as did the mule in front of his plow. The creature looked like a human size housecat that walked on two feet. He was covered in long gray fur, with an occasional stripe running here or there across his head, shoulders, back and tail. A thick mane of gray hair was pulled back from his feline face and ears, cascading down his back between his fur covered shoulders. He was very muscular and shapely, his fur did not hide the strength that lay beneath it, and he only looked out of place behind the plow. He looked like he should have been a killer.
Mercedes woke with the sun, the window near her bed allowing the sunshine the lay on her face. She did not look beautiful when she woke up; neither did any woman until at least a half an hour in the bathroom. She stretched and yawned, slowly sliding her feet from under the warm covers. Her feet found their slippers without having to search. An old shaggy dog looked up from its bed on a rug in the corner of the nearly bare room. Mercedes never really cared for material things, so her bedroom consisted of the bare minimum. A large king sized bed was in the center of the room, with two dressers and two closets. The room looked to be as if she shared it with a man, but the only other warm body in the bed was the still sleeping figure of Mercedes' daughter, Clytie.
Mercedes walked into the bathroom that was off from her bedroom, placing her housecoat on over the pink satin nightgown she wore. She looked at herself in the mirror. Mercedes had cotton white hair that made her look very odd with her darkly tanned skin. She was no weakling with her strong arms and legs from hours of heavy lifting and working about the small farm that she owned. Her face was young of that of only 23, but her deep blue eyes seemed much older and wiser. Mercedes ran a brush through her straight hair; it only fell to her shoulders. She quickly braided it, and thought she looked better as she began to wash her face, cleaning the sleep from her eyes.
She dressed silently, not wanting to wake her five-year-old daughter who snored softly. Mercedes was going to town today and as always she dressed a little nicer than she normally did. A black pair of jeans, with a clean blue shirt, and her favorite pair of boots, did Mercedes finally step out of the bedroom and made her way downstairs to the kitchen to cook breakfast.
The creature in the fields, or Cassius, was an Alumbra, a feline humanoid. Cassius spoke English along with his native tongue, Alumbria. His race and that of the humans had decided to populate the same planet without telling the other. The two colonies collided, and the Alumbra lost the war. The humans did not like them, but yet they were trapped here on this planet without help from their home. He hated the humans, but he thought he hated his own people worse. They left the colonists here to survive or die, and Cassius strongly disapproved of that action.
The humans had their own problems, their own home world, a place unfamiliar to Cassius called Earth, had left them to rot as well. They had sent one ship of colonist to start the colonization of the empty but green planet. These first colonists were to make the way for the rest of the humans that were supposed to be on their journey, only Earth had decided to not send any more humans to the planet. The humans, consisting mostly of farmers and miners were on their own as well and back in the dark ages. Technology was limited here on this world, Cassius gave them credit, looking at the mule and plow, and they made the best of a bad situation.
The smell of bacon sizzling and biscuits baking drew Cassius' pink nose up into the air. Mercedes, his boss, was up and cooking breakfast. With a growling stomach he unclipped the mule from the plow, taking care to take off its tack as he replaced it in the paddock. The slowly and silently padded his way to the small two story farmhouse.
The kitchen was a bright yellow with as many windows as the builder of the house could place in it. Mercedes stood at the island, cooking, while biscuits rose in the oven. A pot of coffee perked on a burner, as bacon and eggs sizzled next to it. She hummed to herself, a habit she had always had when she cooked.
Cassius came into the kitchen and stood in the doorway. He watched Mercedes a little too long. He admired her strength, her will to survive in the harsh wilderness of a strange planet. Her only fault was she reminded him too much of Bianco, his mate. He guessed it was her personality that made him stare and remember, or perhaps her long white braid.
If Cassius was a longhaired gray tabby, then Bianco was a white Persian. She had high bloodlines, too high for a poor soul like Cassius, but the saying is love conquers all. Cassius almost sighed out loud; it was not entirely true. He loved Bianco, enough that they had decided to run away from Alumbra, his home planet and they volunteered to be colonists on this god for saken planet. Only Serge, Bianco's brother, had followed them here. A duel between them, over Bianco, caused the death of her unborn son, her and Serge. Cassius had merely been wounded in the shoulder. A scar and a loss of fur were reminders of Bianco.
Mercedes looked up, surprised to see Cassius watching her, but she had to remember that the Alumbra were more like cats than just looks. She smiled at him; he was a handsome cat. His only clothing was a pair of breeches and a white sleeveless tunic. His eyes always shocked Mercedes; Alumbra all had amber eyes. Cassius was blessed with beautiful green eyes. They sparkled like emeralds, reminding Mercedes of a time she'd rather forget. With their eyes locked on each other's, something seemed to pass between them. Mercedes had always been kind to Cassius, but this was more than just kindness. She felt her face flush and her heart began beating faster. She felt like a schoolgirl again.
"Mama," called Clytie from the steps that led into the hallway near the front door of the house, but was able to peer into the kitchen from them. The moment between them was broken.
"What is it, Clytie," asked Mercedes, returning to her cooking by pulling the biscuits from the oven.
"When will breakfast be done," she asked.
"Right now. Please go set the table." Clytie walked down the rest of the steps, and silently began her take of setting the table for three. Cassius watched the small child as she gracefully moved about setting the table. He had never studied the daughter very much until now. She seemed a little too sure of herself and a little too graceful for a 5 year old. Clytie was practically the opposite of her mother. Where Mercedes was dark skinned with white hair, Clytie had snow-white skin and the blackest hair he'd ever seen. Her eyes were large and amber colored, like the color of sherry. Her body was small and dainty, and according to Mercedes she was never in the best of health. She was graceful but something about her seemed a little unhuman. Something cat like.
"Did her father have black hair," asked Cassius out of the clear blue. Mercedes froze in her position of placing food on the table. Clytie had already taken her seat, and Cassius was moving towards the table to sit himself.
"Yes, tell us about daddy," begged Clytie. Mercedes frowned, but complied. She continued to place the food on the table.
"Well, baby, your father's name was Porter," started Mercedes.
"Porter," repeated Clytie turning her nose up in disgust at the name.
"He was handsome," Mercedes started again.
"Handsome like Cassius?"
"Er, yes, handsome like Cassius." She felt herself blush again as her gaze locked once more on Cassius' green eyes. Cassius just smiled. "He had long black hair, soft as satin. I loved to run my fingers through it." Mercedes sat down and began to place food on her plate after serving Clytie and Cassius. She looked very uncomfortable telling the story.
"I'm sorry I brought it up," apologized Cassius.
"It's okay," she spoke softly. "He had these large brown eyes, they felt like they could see through you to your soul. No matter what anyone says, I loved your father very much."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Porter was not liked by many people." Mercedes paused, sighing, her eyes beginning to redden as she felt her pangs of loneliness tugging on her tear ducts. "You see, Clytie, some people fear what they do not understand. Porter was special, he could read minds, and make suggestions as he called it."
"Your husband was a telepath," questioned Cassius.
"Yes, he was."
"My society reveres telepaths. They are usually in the highest court systems."
"Well here, your society didn't revere him. They hated him, just as much my society hated him." Mercedes had begun to cry, but they were silent tears.
"I can not speak on behalf of my people, but he would have had less resistance from my people if he were Alumbra." Now she seemed to have turned angry. Slamming her fist on the table.
"You don't understand," she said through her tears, "Porter was Alumbra!" Mercedes left her seat, and ran up the steps to her room. She flung herself on the bed and mourned again for the loss of Porter. Poor Porter, who was murdered by his own people.
Cassius softly knocked on Mercedes' open door. Seeing her lying on her stomach. She didn't seem to be crying any more, just resting. Cassius didn't really know what to do. When Bianco died, he nearly killed himself. Only his being drafted into the small Alumbra army that had formed had interrupted his suicide. "Mercedes? Are you all right? Should I leave?"
Mercedes turned from her spot on the bed, rolling to face him. "No Cassius," she whispered. "I don't want you to leave." Mercedes wiped her still crying eyes with the sheet.
"I want to say, I'm sorry," started Cassius. "I did not know."
"Neither did Clytie." With that, Mercedes got up from the bed, and walked to where Cassius was standing in the doorway. She slowly and a little awkwardly placed her arms around Cassius' neck, asking in body language for a hug. Cassius found his arms slipping around Mercedes' slender waist. His furred hands found the rubber band that held her braid, and with a slight tug, pulled it free. He reached up and softly combed the braid from her hair with his fingers. Her hair was as soft and shiny as Bianco's had been.
He was amazed at how nicely Mercedes' body felt against his own. How perfectly his chin came to rest on her head. He slowly rubbed his chin on her, realizing that he was spreading his scent from the glands on his chin into her hair. He was absent-mindedly marking her as his territory. He touched her face; her skin was so smooth, pink, and very appealing to him. He'd never felt this way about a human before. He wanted her. After all this time, he wanted someone. A burning desire for this vulnerable female began to ignite in him.
Mercedes did not move her head from his chest for sometime. It seemed like they had been holding each other for hours, but had only been mere moments. "Thank you, Cassius. I needed that." She pulled from his grasp, and his arms wanted to reach out and pull her back to him. He let them fall limp to his sides. Cassius frowned for a slight second. Something seemed wrong to him.
I want you; don't you want me too? Cassius asked with his mind's voice. Suddenly a voice spoke to him in his own mind. It sounded not unlike Mercedes, but also like Bianco's.
I do Cassius. Spoke the disembodied voice. An image finally came to him; it looked like Bianco and Mercedes, only as one person. Only after all the hurt and pain, I don't want to lose someone that close to me again. I'm sorry Cassius. The image of Bianco/Mercedes disappeared in shimmer.
"Did you just…" started Cassius, a confused look on his face. Mercedes returned to her bed, sitting. Opening a drawer, and pulling out a framed photo. It was of a denim wearing Alumbra accompanied by a jeans and T-shirt wearing, but much younger Mercedes. The Alumbra, as black as coal, had his arm draped around the shoulders of Mercedes. Both looked very happy, carefree. Mercedes studied the picture; her hand moving across the body of the Alumbra in the photo, Cassius assumed that was Porter.
"I was with Porter when he died," spoke Mercedes almost too calmly. "One of his last gifts to me was telepathy. I carry a piece of him with me wherever I go. A piece in here." She tapped her temple. She paused, staring at the picture. "His other gift was little girls that came several months later."
"Claudie is Clytie's twin sister. She looked Alumbra, but a pale cream in color. She died a few hours after birth." Mercedes sighed over the loss of her daughter. "I've hurt so much, I don't want to hurt any more, never again." Cassius finally moved from the doorway to the sit beside her on the bed. He took the picture from her unwilling hands.
"How did Porter die," asked Cassius, knowing that it was an improper question, and that Mercedes really had no reason to answer. He wanted to know he wanted to be able to comfort her.
"We were buying groceries in Shanty Town," started Mercedes, now just staring at her empty hands. Her voice was very low and monotone. "A sniper on the balcony of the Blue Boar Tavern. Porter was walking next to me; he just suddenly crumpled to the ground. Then I heard the rifle retort. Porter had a gaping hole in his chest." Tears were streaming down her face again. "He died in my arms. No one would help us! Not a single person." Now Cassius himself was angered. A woman like Mercedes should never have to suffer the loss of a loved one, not like she had. Not like he had. He slowly placed his arm around her shoulders, and once again Mercedes' face was buried in the longer gray and white fur on his chest. She shuddered as she cried on him, and he only held her tighter. He was also angry with himself; he was reopening old wounds. He only hoped that he could heal them properly.
"Do you know who did it? Were they ever caught?" Cassius was feeling a strong urge for revenge. The death of his fellow Alumbra needed to be avenged. His widow needed to be provided for. He knew that Mercedes was a strong woman, but no one is a rock
"His name is Hutch. He's Alumbra, why would he murder Porter?" Mercedes asked through her tears. Her voice muffled by Cassius' fur. Cassius had heard of Hutch. He was not a very nice person, but he saw no reason why Porter deserved to be murdered in such cold cowardly blood. They were no laws against Alumbra/Human relations. The thought made Cassius' blood boil.
Merth was a small walled town in the middle of nowhere. It was the original colony by the Alumbra. A large sign spoke, "ALUMBRA ONLY" on the entrance above another sign that read, "Merth, pop. 306." Cassius thought that was an old sign. So many Alumbra were killed in the conflict between his people and Mercedes' people.
Cassius walked casually into the walled city. He now wore a gray jacket over his white tunic. Tucked inside the jacket was a small but powerful pistol that had been his only friend for too long a time after Bianco's death. Bianco had a younger brother, Boris, whom Cassius had never met. Word had reached Boris' ear of Bianco's death, and he planned to avenge her, just as Cassius planned to avenge Porter and his widow.
He found Merth's tavern, a rundown, wooden building with the name Seven Stars. He slowly entered the darkened bar room. He paused at the door to allow his eyes to adjust to the new light settings. A bar was along one room with a door behind it. The rest of the tavern was filled with tables. Only two or three Alumbra shared the tavern, most sitting away from each other, drinking away their problems. The day was still early, by evening it would begin to fill up.
Cassius' sat on a stool at the bar, ordering something strong that came steaming in a mug to him that was not coffee. The tender, a one-eared Alumbra that looked worse for wear. He sat watching the door from his perch on the stool, knowing that this was Hutch's favorite hang out. He waited and remembered. Remembered Bianco.
Even though it was not that long ago, Cassius could not recall everything he thought that he should be able to. He remembered the way Bianco's coat shone in any light, either it be artificial, candle or sun light. He could remember her large amber eyes. How they looked like deep pools in which Cassius could immerse his soul.
Unfortunately along with the memories of Bianco, came the memories of Serge. Serge was her older brother, the main opposer of Bianco's relationship to Cassius. Serge was much like Bianco in the way of the white fur and brown eyes. Only Serge's coat was riddled with bare patches and scars. It was in the meadow outside of Merth that he had met with Serge. They pulled their guns, standing back to back. Ten paces then turned. Cassius cringed at he could still smell the gunpowder, hear the retorts. The sound of Bianco as she shouted, "Stop! No!" Her scream as both shots had hit her square in her beautiful chest. She had fallen graceless to the ground, looking as if she merely tripped. She mewled in pain for only a few short moments as the red blood stained her still shimmering fur. Cassius had cried as he held her, shrugging off Serge's attempts to pull Bianco's body from his grasp. After several moments, Cassius rose, picking up his gun from the ground.
"Let's go again, Serge," hissed Cassius, his words dripping with venom. Once again they did the ten paces and turned. Two shots were heard, one yelp of pain, one fell to the ground. Serge lay on the ground, a fatal wound in his neck. Two white bodies lay amongst the waist tall grass of what used to be a serene meadow. Cassius stooped, picking up his beloved Bianco. His arm didn't seem to want to work with the shot he had taken in the shoulder from Serge. He forced his arm to help carry Bianco.
He buried Bianco underneath a tree that was blooming white blossoms. It hurt him so much to scratch the dirt back over her peaceful body. He lay on top of her grave, ready to die. He would not die by his own hand, but he would not try to save himself. Two days later he was found by a patrolling party of Alumbra soldiers. They forced him to eat and drink; they forced him to live again. Then they drafted him for the Alumbra army. He fought along side his Alumbra people, killing humans, and lost the war.
Word caught up with him that Bianco's younger brother was searching for the slime that murdered his sister and his brother. He was going to avenge their deaths. Cassius went on the move, living on the run, now that he had decided to live again. His only trade was what he had been before Bianco, he was a mercenary, and that was how he lived again. Until he saw the sign on Mercedes' fence post asking for help. He wondered how long he could live in peace at her farm, pretending to be a hired hand. That is if Mercedes would allow an Alumbra to work for her.
Cassius shook the bad memories from his head, trying to imagine the beautiful figure of Bianco. The sight of another figure in his mind's eye troubled him instead. It was not Bianco but Mercedes. The bar tender woke Cassius from his reminiscing, by refilling the mug in front of him. Cassius glanced at the door to see Hutch enter. Hutch was scarred and mangy looking creature. Cassius would not want to tango with Hutch in hand to hand combat, but he did not plan to. Hutch had short scruffy looking orange fur, which was dull and lifeless. Cassius drew his gun from his jacket; Hutch had murdered his last Alumbra.