from the speculative novel, The Feeling of the Earth (1842-2073)
Chapter 1: The 3rd Alien
Nebraska Territory, 1842
New wheel ruts marred the grassy area near the stream. The native crouched down and examined long furrows in the wet ground.
Alarmed, he turned to stone and scanned nearby land, holding his breath. But no human sounds were evident, only sparrows chittering in clumps of elms hanging over Clear Creek.
The brook’s thin water gurgled, rippling, wide and shallow. Pebbles shimmered on its sandy bottom. Eastward, the stream flowed, winding away amongst the grassy loafed hills.
Through tall elms, a flat stone ridge loomed, the Table Rock. However not a single unusual movement anywhere in the landscape.
But the native seethed. These wheeled scars had marred their land far too long! Pale aliens came from the north and from the east, following the wide, flat, muddy Nebraskier River westward.
Sometimes their wagon teams stopped at little Clear Creek, because of the abundant spring which fed it.
Recently the invaders had gotten men of a nearby tribe, the stupid Oto, drunk on firewater—trading that evil drink for beaver pelt.
He cursed silently and watched the land. Thank you Great Spirit that my people, the Chaticks-si-chaticks (Men of men), don’t betray others for drink. We’re not a twisting snake like the Oto.
However, then he remembered several seasons ago. True, I sold my last catch of beaver to one such group of invaders, ugly haired 2-faces, but did so for blankets.
But I won’t sell to those cowards--defilers--ever again! I, Wore Wolf Teeth of the Chaticks-si-chaticks, swear to it.
He brushed one hand through the single ridge of stiffened hair that roostered up from his mostly shaven head. Then he stood up and swept his gaze over the terrain once more, peering at rock outcroppings and up narrow arroyos.
Only 3 moons ago lazy Oto thieves had slunk into his village of Weeping Water while he and other warriors were out hunting. Had stolen his prize ceremonial shirt which his spouse had made from the hide of a large deer, one he had shot last winter.
Peering toward the east, Wore Wolf Teeth wondered what other evil lay there yet to come this way and curse their lives. The white aliens hadn’t only corrupted the worthless Oto. Those invaders coming in wheeled lodges killed their bison and profaned their land.
Last summer the invaders slaughtered over a thousand of our bison, eastward toward the Big Muddy. Crazy aliens, such evil waste!
Stark images filled Wore’s mind. When he and several other warriors rode onto the cruel scene, a terrible stink assaulted them. Carcasses of hundreds of bison lay abandoned by the edge of the Nebraskier—so much rich meat rancid, rotting and bloating, crowded with skin-islands of flies in the hot summer sun.
The killers had skinned every shaggy hide from the fallen beasts, abandoned the corpses, and then left with only the hides piled high in their moving lodges. Greedy scum!
On that shameful day, the sun had blazed hot like now; yes, the season of sweating. He wiped moisture from his brow, and reprimanded himself for not being there with his fellow braves to stop that slaughter.
Again, he scanned the landscape. Still no human sounds. Finally Wore rose and walked over to Clear Creek and scooped up a cool drink with his right hand. He would return to his village, speak in the council and maybe they would mount a war party to deal with these new wagon-aliens.
Suddenly, a covey of quail swarled up from a nearby thicket and winged up over the muddy ruts, skyward. Wore dropped flat, and like a bull snake slithered into heavy brush, listening for the sound of hooves, or boot steps, even muffled breathing.
Nothing! Only the creek’s gurgle. However, the birds had stopped chattering.
Then as he peered out through leafy branches, the sky tore open--abruptly, distorting, and bubbling out,
a darkness looking at first like a black globbed mass,
like dark spittle on a French trapper's beard,
but then widening, widening, widening...
until he, Wore Wolf Teeth, inched back in dread.
This deadly vision must come from the spirits or maybe the Great Spirit, not from any bodied foe. Yet the horrid sight boded nothing like his quest dream he had received when becoming a brave a few seasons back on the southern plains.
Widening, the dark, translucent bubble continued enlarging until it loomed greater than all of their lodges back in his village of the Weeping Water.
Strange and horrendous, the spirit up above expanded until it gaped far vaster than one of the white invaders' cliff forts—enlarging until the monstrous distortion filled the whole sky, and then it blotted out the sun.
Wolf Teeth lay still, at one with gravel and stones under him. The distorted cavern above him, endless, coal black, a dark horror, threatening to engulf the world.
He remembered the murky cave he had climbed down into when a small boy, how it blotted out the sky. And how terrified he had been when he couldn’t find his way out for hours. All that black pitched darkness.
Now the sky tunnel of smoked blackness swallowed the entire whole horizon and out of the cavernous maw charged, stormed, barraged a drab-gray monster.
What dreadful evil spirit? Or could it be a severe warning, an omen for me from the Great Spirit? But why?
For the first time in his 23 years, Wore shivered despite the summer heat. Even when he had counted coup against the Arapaho, disdaining their warriors and had to pull out a thrown lance from his bleeding arm, while hanging to his stolen horse's mane, even then he hadn’t been afraid.
No fear then, no! But alive and glorious, so triumphant, galloping across the plains, we were great victors.
But not now...no, now a hungry dread ate at his gut like a vulture. He was being truly tested. His pulse beat fast, but he gripped his medicine bag hanging from his neck, crawled out of the brush, stood tall and spoke, "I am Wore Wolf Teeth of the Chaticks-si-chaticks!”
Above, the gigantic dark gray spirit hovered pulsating, threatening, and behind it the black sky, endless tar, darkening the world.
Only 3 miles away, horses of an Oregon-bound wagon train skittered and bucked; one large roan knocked its rider to the ground. Men looked up in shock, bewildered by this sudden pitch darkness. Even the chatter and horseplay of their children ceased.
In the 3rd Conestoga wagon, Neil O'Brien stared up into the blackness and held his breath.
One of the forward scouts shouted back, "Halt!"
Their wagons came to a stop. Drivers tensely searched the sky for any funnel of an approaching tornado. Everyone, even the children, waited for the first strike of lightning and then the crack or roll of thunder, but none came. Only an extreme darkness, an utter silence, a thunder of blackness filling the day sky.
Neil couldn’t even see his rein hand. Baffled, he hollered back to his wife in the wagon, “Darlin’, you okay?”
‘Yes, Neil, is a storm brewing? Our babe’s asleep.”
Mothers shoved their children under tick beds in the schooners and waited. The darkness increased, darkness on darkness. And then a horrid grayness shot into being. Men pulled out rifles—rather senseless, they knew—and waited. A few little ones started crying.
But then, just as the sudden blackness darkening the world had attacked, the abyss of color vanished including the great gray monster, and again the wagoneers squinted into the blazing glare of the summer’s sun and a totally pristine blue sky.
Almost immediately hundreds of voices rushed to fill the still air. Neil turned to Naomi, his wife, who had come up behind him from the back of their wagon.
He put his free arm around her shoulders and said, "Strange, almost preternatural. What a dangerous incongruity! Suddenly that vast thunderhead, or maybe giant tornado, dominates the sky—largest I’ve ever seen—frightens and bedevils us, but then vanishes instantly."
"Neil, it might be a sign from the Almighty," she responded as she leaned closer to him where he sat, reins in hand.
Before he could answer, a scout shouted and the 2 wagons in front of them began moving again. He turned and flicked the reins. His wife backed into the shade of their schooner’s covering and lifted up their 6-month-old daughter Hannah, and softly sang a Good News hymn.
As Neil guided the horses forward, he thought about the strange atmospheric phenomenon, remembering a few texts he had read at law school which had mentioned a similar strange sky a few years back.
Sounded like superstition, but what could have caused such an atmospheric disturbance? No thunderhead or tornado.
Finally, as the wagon train plodded along, he returned to contemplating his and Naomi’s future…about their chances in the Oregon Territory. He was glad they weren't staying here on the Nebraska plains. Not that it doesn’t have potential—lots of level land for farming, but looks too dry.
And I’d miss all the oaks and elms. This terrain’s almost treeless except by streams. No wonder some commentators call it a vast desert.
What a contrast to last week when they had camped back near the Missouri River where land stood thick with timber—very verdant and so fertile.
They followed along behind the 2 schooners in front of their wagon, and 13 more behind, as their train of immigrants rolled alongside this wide river, the Platte (the word meant 'flat' in French, coined by early explorers).
More and more, the rolling hills of eastern Nebraska Territory were lessening, the land flattening, turning to prairie, endless plains as far as he could see. When would they spot buffalo? He corrected himself, Bison; am I picking up ignorant speech?
Holding the reins with one hand, Neil took a swig of warm water from his cloth canteen. He momentarily contemplated whether the French term for the wide shallow river was the best, or if they should have kept the stranger, more alien sounding Oto Indian word, Nebraskier, meaning "flat water."
But then the matter of the sky darkness came back to him, the dark foreboding and sinister aura of the phenomenon, and he pondered what it could signify.
Several hours passed. Behind him, in the wagon, Naomi was sewing and cooing to their little one. He wiped sweat from his face with his forearm again. So blazing hot!
At least that threatening darkness provided momentary relief. ‘Must be 110 degrees at least. Such a contrast to the downpour 5 days ago that had created a muddy mess for their wagons. But this excruciating heat seems to exude moisture.
His shirt clung to his chest and back, utterly drenched, as if he had taken a dunk in the nearby river, though its sluggish water didn't look deep enough to get baptized in.
Their 4 horses plugged along the hoof-punched mud trail; he tied the reins to the post, yanked off his dripping shirt, wiped his face and arms, and wrapped it around his neck to ward off more sunburn there.
Below his left rib, showed a large scar, the one from his battle in Tennessee against the Cherokee. It welted livid against his dark tan.
Jagged memory assaulted him--his partner holding a small bloody scalp, a child’s, and whooping with delight, boasting to Neil how they'd get rid of all of the red vermin, cursed aliens, the savages which tried to stop their move westward.
Blood dripped into Neil’s mind like the sky darkness of hours before, all of it seeping from the small patch of hair hanging like a shredded rattler in his buddy’s hand. Neil cussed! Banished the bloodied memory.
He flicked the reins so hard their horses bounded ahead, pulling him too close to the wagon in front.
“Whoa…” he pulled back on the horses—the loud chatter of kids up ahead--and thought of his own baby and Naomi behind him within their wagon. His wife had stopped singing. Probably heard me take God’s name in vain.
Scanning out across the shallow water on his left, Neil tried to see the far side of the river. But too much humid haze.
Then he turned behind to see what his wife was doing. Their baby, Hannah, lay wrapped tightly in a thin sheet, asleep on the Mennonite quilt covering their small mattress that rested on packing crates.
Naomi sat behind the infant, peeling potatoes, her blouse wet-damp against her bosom and pleasingly open at the neck, her long mahogany hair a tumble of wrap up on her head, a few wisps clinging to the sweat on her forehead.
"Hey Love,” Neil asked, “how about bringin’ me some tea?"
She looked up at her man, and smiled. “Sure, Neil.” Naomi reached down under the side of their mattress and pulled out a large stone jar. Then hefted it up, tipped, and poured out brown tea into a glass mason jar.
Naomi felt proud of her husband, though sometimes now wished she were still back in Philadelphia and teaching at Penn Quaker School, not out here on this rough, dangerous trek. And wished my parents were still alive.
Naomi edged forward, holding onto the crates so as to not spill any liquid as their wagon rocked and jostled over uneven ground. One wheel slid into a mud-hole and the wagon lurched. But she caught herself with a hand against one of the stays supporting the overhead fabric cover.
Grabbing the reins, Neil calmed the horses as they righted the wagon and plodded on again.
He felt her hand on his bare shoulder, turned back and looked down into her luminous eyes, great with kissed closeness, sweat glistening on her forehead and cheeks. Wanted to swoop her up into his arms...but he only visually caressed her, with intensity into her irises, and took the tumbler from her calloused hands, and turned back to watch the horses.
Behind him, his wife’s hand lingered on his shoulder, then slid it down his side and mischievously pinched him.
He sloshed his tea, some slurping over the rim and landing on his legs. He grabbed for her hand but she had retreated.
“Just you wait, you ornery sprite, you’ve got yours comin’ later. Is that kind of tomfoolery proper for a young school marm?”
Naomi’s gentle laughter came to him as she picked up their 6-month old daughter, no doubt holding her close, probably giving her to breast. And he thanked God above for his young wife.
Later in a lawyer-like moment, he marveled how he still used high-falutin’ literary terms like ‘sprite’. Out here in the wild west of the Nebraska Territory, many pioneers and trappers couldn’t write basic prose, let alone reference out literary allusions. No time for study when ever’ waking moment meant hard work.
Should I have stayed in Rhode Island and finished my law courses? But then I wouldn’t have met Naomi! However then somber images crowded in—and had to bury her folks and 216 other dead bodies interred in the spring thaw ground in St. Louis, decimated by the small pox.
Another death haunted him—blood seeping guilt...that dripping scalp of the little savage hangin’ in his friend’s hand…No! I won’t think of that.
Remember good times! Focus on Naomi—making love. Weeks before when they first met, she had looked so severe in her sedate Quaker dress, but she was all heat and passion hidden away within. And that brought back passionate images of their wedding night! Better not dwell on that.
He noticed the horses had slowed, and shook the reins.
Maybe if they hadn’t decided to go west, he could have taken her back to Providence, Rode Island after their wedding and shown her his old stomping ground, got her a small frame house, and she could be tending their daughter and walking down to Dutch’s Dry Goods, while he read the Law...but corpses of savages clotted on the ground, their lodges burning and that dripping hair in his friend’s hand. God, Stop it!
He looked ahead at the 2 wagons in front of him as they rounded a slight bluff and wondered how long before they reached the Weeping Water camp site. Would it be safe? The Pawnee natives were unpredictable. Look how they slaughtered that village of Arapaho several years ago! And their oppression of the Oto.
On the other hand, Pawnee hatred of the Lakota might help us, when we get to Chimney Rock. Indians are so tribal...well that’s prejudiced thinking...as if we Europeans aren’t. Neil remembered his study of the Napoleonic Wars, and the infighting among American easterners even now.
A horde of flies circled and he batted at them with his free hand. The horses were sweating profusely and whipping their tails against the endless flies...must’ve swarmed up from Egypt, compliments of Moses.
Speaking of the Good Book, he now heard Naomi singing a Scripture passage to their daughter. His wife was versing a line: “Be kind to foreigners, aliens in your midst, angels unawares. Yes, dear Lord, yes.”
Yeah sure, right! Neil frowned. Dark images of the Cherokee war came back. Sometimes the Bible’s downright stupid! Be kind to killers? Savages? That’s what most of the redskins are. Aliens who show no mercy to us or their own kind, other tribes.
Natives were so strange in their thinking, the way they could attack friendly wagon trains out here, without warning, slaughtering everyone, and executing whole families at wilderness farms back in Kentucky.
The savages, even their squaws, mutilated the bodies! Take that German immigrant we found with his entrails torn out of his body, his intestines wrapped all the way around an oak tree...tied there by his own guts left to bleed to death slowly. Despicable aliens!
But then gruesome images of his best friend with the small bloody trophy seared bleeding script on Neil’s mind, the proverbial writing on his own inner wall, and he cursed loudly. And again harshly, and whipped the horses.
“What’s wrong Dearheart? Do you need me?” Naomi asked from in the wagon. “Please don’t take our Savior’s name in vain.”
Neil didn’t answer, but focused with his lawyer mind trying to argue his conscience down. His wife didn’t say anymore, began singing again. The fervent words of the song scalded his conscience. He battled back against the guilt.
But trying to justify himself, arguing against the Almighty, the judge of the cosmos was a nigh bit more than his ability. But oh God, why do you emphasize we should care for aliens? Think of your servant; they gutted him to a tree!
Clumps of box elders stood tall with dense thickets of raspberries by the flat river. But Neil couldn’t focus on the scenery. He grimaced and again swung at hordes of flies swarming around him and the horses.
What if I was assigned as a defense attorney for savages? This is hard. Well, if I were a savage, then white folks would seem like aliens, too. We’ve taken lots of their land. And there’s the broken treaties. Even with the derned Cherokee. But heck...
Neil flicked the horses angrily to speed them up as he realized they had again fallen back a few yards. But suddenly the wagon in front of him stopped.
"Tarnation! What now?" Neil stood up and stared ahead. If the wagon train kept stopping, they wouldn’t make it to Chimney Rock for days, and then would get caught in early snow before getting over the Rockies through the pass.
Neil waited—hopefully the stop wasn’t because the scouts had spotted signs of natives. Out here they were likely to be hostiles. He took off his brown hat and wiped more sweat and grime from his forehead. Then glanced up toward the glaring sun and ran fingers through his wet brown hair.
Remembered the strange atmospheric occurrence earlier. He turned back to the hooped opening behind him. Inside, in muted light, on their mattress propped on top of crates, kegs and large trunks, Naomi sat nursing Hannah.
Neil grinned wide remembering the rambunctious night only 15 months ago, right after they had seen the justice of the peace.
But then he bit his lip at the somber images which crowded in--the shallow grave which he had dug for his wife's parents, their skin all pocked up, only 2 of hundreds of people who had frenzied to death in an epidemic that had descended on St. Louis for months in the spring—
Yelling! What now?!
His warm memories shattered away. Coming at a gallop, one of the scouts dashed up to the wagon in front of them, waving his hat as if warding off storms of bumble bees. And stopped. Loud conversation but too indistinct to hear.
Neil quickly looped the reins on the wagon stay, jumped to the ground and hurried forward. It was the short French Canadian, the one with a mangy trapper's hat. How could he wear that thing in this heat?
The trail guide suddenly trotted alongside the wagon toward him. Even before he reached Neil, the guide pulled up on his reins, and shouted in his heavy accent, "Got problems! Scout Lefty hasn’t returned. And there’s horse tracks just up ahead; probably Pawnee. Most of 'em been passive these days, but there was an attack on a train a few weeks bac’. Get out yer rifle ‘n stay eagle-eyed."
Before Neil could answer, the scruffy guide giddied his horse and trotted on past him to the next wagon behind.
After his tachyon ship flung out of hyperspace, bursting from the bubbled warp, Uzx Hjxthzgvk mentally felt-skinned many grassy undulating hills and streams below on this alien world and emotionally warmed, wishing he could skxxjh. And beyond the warm hills lay flat expanses of endless grass and wildlife for miles!
"Such tactile wealth!" his skin gloried in joyful anticipation. "What luxuriating wonder." He virtually caressed many strange plants growing up from the grassy terrain near a wide river.
“So much liquid! Visible above ground--zjzhgtqz!" The Orxxjhian smiled at the glory of this new world. This wondrous place would be a tactile for many rotations. So what if it’s a small planet rotating a minor yellow sun.
He would somehow justify the research, though the data feeling into him from the ship emphasized there were no great techno-cities here--no extensive statistics to be analyzed and statted; and these few conscious inhabitants were only skinny primates...but with no tails for ritual and support, and a species of such limited basic intelligence at that.
But nevertheless, this world showed promise. He grinned wide with his facial orifice and shifted his feel on the instruments. Data flowed in on one of the primates crouched below, evidently hiding in the foliage.
Yes, the Terran alien was spying up at their ship using only his visual percepters and the aural lobes in his head.
Probably not a threat--obviously incapable of distance-feeling, only has basic self-consciousness, medium intelligence for a primate, pre-literate, dark-skinned, strong energy level and brave, but strangely overly filled with dread.
Nearby, the primate’s 4-legged mammal-rider shook itself and hoofed the ground. Ah, called a “horse”…thanks data director, Uzx felted to the ship’s computer center. Not dangerous, but tactilely fascinating, especially the long main of hair on its neck.
The horse stopped moving and lowered its head back to a shallow stream where it had been drinking. The mammal was restricted by a cord tied to one of a few tall many-limbed plants--the term, trees.
Skinning the wide horizon, felting this new place of wonder, Uzx marveled. Yet, the primate far below, as alert as any sentient creature, seemed barely senseful.
Only a few points to the south over the terrain from him, many other primates congregated, but of a lighter skin shade than his, some of them vocalizing so loudly, yet the dark-skinned one couldn't hear them or feel them.
These aliens obviously had no inner means of communication. And all their loud yakking, like a bunch of xhvzpxzlzsq, was embarrassing.
Also, none in the large grouping had the stiff ridge on a shaved head like the first earthling, but instead they wore odd fiber coverings over their hair; and some of their faces sprouted bushy hair below their sense organs and intake orifices. Otherwise, no fur.
Quickly, Uzx accessed 139 different mental states of the primitive travelers. Most of them were upset because one of their leaders had found tracks belonging to the lone native's mammal.
One of leader was riding his mammal back along the primitive conveyances shouting out warnings. So much loud linguistic noise! Rather odd, funny in a way. Uzx's skin laughed.
The leading primate hadn't even taken a moment to stick his multi-pronged appendages into to feel the semicircular shapes of the tracks in the rich loam of the muddy soil. What a waste of tactile!
Musing rather excitedly, Uzx considered options: Maybe I should quantum-destruct those primitive gunpowder tubes attached to the aliens’ waists and held in some of their hands. Oh, I can do that later after my complete survey and all the data collection finishes.
Instead, he shifted on his large feet, adjusted the back support of his tail, and felted again back to the terrain where the first earth primate still hid. The primitive was holding a totem of sorts and invoking deity.
At least the earthling had advanced enough in the evolutionary scale so he was self-aware, and vividly cognizant of an ultimate category of existence, the All/Ultimate. Good.
But Uzx skinned, felting the little finning creatures in the surface liquid of the small creek. What will they skin like when I actually touch them? Such fascinating primitive life forms.
What would my own planet of Orxxjh be like if it had surface water?
He touched the ship data flow and the weird scaly creatures flapped their fins in panic and zipped about in the shallow stream.
What a strange wonderful world. Oh thanks to the All-Ultimate that I careered as an alienologist. Surely, no other Sirehold compares to this joy of discovery.
Next, Uzx scanned with his skin across the landscape to where shaggy 4-legged creatures congregated at a much larger moving body of liquid, a wide river.
He first considered feltdentifying into one of the herd of thousands for his first skxxjh, but then remembered the bloated carcasses he had accessed from the hiding native's mind. Better do more research on the reason for the massive slaying of these furry beasts.
The ship alien remembered his own great Sire's wise quote to him when he was growing up, not too long after depouching: “Dear son, always remember, ‘Forefeeling leads to felthood.’"
So instead Uzx widened the range of his sensing for more in depth input. Thankfully the scanning ability of his ship’s data director was nearly endless.
Later he would focus on one of the alien primate families, probably the extremely small family in the 3rd conveyance in the line of human travelers. That curly-bearded one, termed Neil O’Brien, is conscientious, ardent, and spiritual, yet skeptical—fascinating. But his searing memories show a very tragic past—what a chaos of troubling images.
And his nursing spouse, within under that vegetative gray-white covering--very sad, has no pouch. How belittling to be a primate. Only one small infant!
Yet she spends much inner time in worship of her species’ Divine, seems similar to the All/Ultimate. Furthermore, the male and his mate show more erudition than any of the others in this human grouping--so many of these aliens are barely literate! Really difficult to fathom.
Uzx paused to move through a short tailing ritual of regret for this unfertile couple, though he quickly realized the vast majority of these primates were likewise afflicted. None of them are blessed with a decent sized brood of younglings, not even at least 23 or 33.
One family in the primitive conveyances does have 9 tailings—such cute progeny...but what’s that to my Sire and Maternal Pouches’ 63?
And none of their infants are safe because these primate females have no maternal pouch. Very sad.
After a few more moments of data flow on the primates, Uzx returned to his search. Too bad there’s no marsupials nearby.
His ship’s data director responded, Many of earth’s large marsupials live in the southern hemisphere. You will study that continent after this one, see what genetic similarity they might have to your own species on Orxxjh, whether the All-Ultimate created them with the same basic genetic code as on Orxxjh.
Scanning through possibilities for feltdentification, Uzx kept searching.
Leaning heavily on his tail, he sifted through millions of potential candidates, finally eliminating flyers (though so intriguing with their wings; no beings like that on Orxxjh), and lots of small reptiles and sea creatures of the vast ocean of liquid to the west.
For his first feltdentification on Terra, he needed something very basic, different yet familiar, with fur and a tail like Orxxjhians—that would help him adjust more easily to the sudden change, and a creature non-intrusive, maybe even a bit fun.
Ah there, he felted a furry, smallish--actually tiny--mammal who tunneled and who was mostly ignored except by winged ones.
It will be perfect for my first feeling of this planet, despite the animal’s stupidity, or rather because that will make the mind-meld less intrusive, less difficult. The alienologist engaged his felt.
Down under ground, a burrow's inhabitants suddenly scurried about sensing an invasion of their sanctuary. A fairly large male collapsed in a tunnel near the surface-mound in the tall prairie grass.
Then it awoke a genius.
Wore Wolf Teeth lay still like hard stone, like bedrock, for long after the demon of dread had unswallowed the sky and vanished. Now only blue remained and the blazing warpath of the sun.
He peered through various holes in the thick brush, and waited and waited, but the fearsome spirit didn't return.
Nowhere gulfed the huge black tunnel or that dreadful spirit that had come lunging out of it.
So, slowly, Wore snaked backward ignoring shards of rock and thorns which cut abrasions on his stomach and upper thighs above his rawhide leggings. Extricating himself from the heavy thicket, he stood.
But then there came a slight noise of slow-moving hooves, only one horse going very slow. Wore shut from his mind the strange sky spirit and focused on what he did know. A rider, in stealth, was coming this way.
Running silently over to his tethered horse, he pulled down his bow and arrows and spit quietly, mentally cursing all invaders.
The horse didn’t sound like Oto or Lakota. Must be a scout for alien palefaces. Evidently this one, a good tracker, did know he was here; must have found his horse’s hoof marks somewhere, though Wore had ridden carefully on rock and hard ground, avoiding open areas.
More and more of these pale aliens, strange talkers who bent their words, kept moving onto his people’s land. Why were so many moving westward?
Always before, even in his grandfather's time, it's true, French trappers had come, but after trading for fur, they left.
But these new one--the trappers called them "les Anglais"--came like locust to chew up everything. They slaughter our bison, only stealing hides, and leave all the rich meat and other good parts for the buzzards and flies. What a cursed breed!
Wore shimmied across ground to a forward tree, then crawled to the dip behind a boulder left of the stand of cedars. How he loved this place; like the body of his warm mate.
Then the horseman, the intruder, came into view, gun drawn. Wore fitted an arrow to his bow, now could see the invader’s slouch hat. Evidently, a French scout.
Wore grinned with deliberation. He drew back on the string. Go back Frenchie, you talker of oiled words!
Thunk! The rider gasped.
Finally, the bow string stopped vibrating, and then the invader toppled from his black horse, an arrow deep in his chest, dead before he crashed into the heavy prairie grass.
The Pawnee warrior waited momentarily, listening. Then he scampered across the small open clearing, and thanked the Great Spirit for delivering this brave Frenchman to the afterlife.
After dragging the corpse into nearby brush, Wore Wolf Teeth calmed the dead man’s skittering horse. Fine horse for my people! From his belt, he pulled out his knife to scalp the invader, but stopped momentarily again; and listened for any other hooves. Nothing. Yet he paused.
The dread omen in the sky lunged back, looming in his mind again. Long claws of dread clutched his gut. Maybe I should let this white roamer go to the afterlife with his hair. Wore remembered his grandfather's words, "In triumph, bow to caution; in bravery, resist pride."
He stuck his knife back into his belt, led the large gelding over to his own horse and swung on the latter.
Leading the enemy's horse by its reins, he rode down into the shallow creek, watching out for deep holes and hidden pockets, and lay close to his horse's neck, ready to sweep over onto its left side if any more invaders came into view.
After leaving the creek, in the distance, he could hear many hooves and the wagons’ pale aliens yelling at each other. Such discourtesy and stupidity! Talking loud like a bunch of geese. They would never hear him.
So Wore rode west at a fast canter distancing himself from the approaching wagons. Thoughts of the other invader, the great evil spirit in the sky came back.
An ominous omen. Dread rose coiled within him like a snake, about to strike.
Riding through a thick stand of box elder and oak, he came out into a large clearing near the Nemaha River.
Despite his courage, the brave glanced up at the sky again. But no dark cavern or gray monster showed, only the great sky-lake of blue and the blazing sun’s warpath.
He crossed the river ford on flat stones, noticing many more ruts on the far side where a previous wagon train had passed weeks earlier. Murky water filled them now, from the thunderstorm of 3 days before.
Wore journeyed toward home, to their Weeping Water, where a rock-ledged falls streamed into the wide Nebraskier River.
Frantically, the prairie dogs kept skittering about in tall grass instinctively warned that something wasn't right. A dangerous presence stirred. They avoided the oddly behaving male.
That small rodent suddenly sensed he was an “I.” Strange thoughts obsessed him. And he felt double-selved. He couldn’t concentrate on foraging for food because of this felting at the wonder of being alive, of sensing and becoming. This amazing life—it’s so incredibly wondrous!
But when he crawled back down into the lower burrows, the primitive state of their habitat depressed him. How can we live like this? I need to create much better living quarters for us. But later...
Uzx skxxjhed within the rodent for at least 2 of earth’s rotations while his ship continued to roam the alien globe accumulating felt data. Though the initial feltdentification into the little mammal was enjoyable, he quickly lost interest in his host, and focused on experiencing the fauna and other creatures of the nearby surroundings.
Scampering through prairie grass to a small stream, Uzx luxuriated in all the surface water. If only Orxxjh still had surface liquid like this! He tried to feel one of the finnish creatures flitting about in the creek, but they were too fast for his tiny mammal self.
Finally, the alienologist left the confused and dazed rodent, and returned to his ship filled with experiential tactilization, having enjoyed his first skin. And with a better awareness of how to feltdentify into more complex earth creatures later.
He engaged in an in-depth analysis feeling through all the earth information the data director had already gathered. Several rotations of Terra later, Uzx relaxed from his work in his sleep-pod.
What would the High Feltment think of this new world he was gathering so much feeling from? Wouldn't his Maternal Pouch and his Sire skin so deeply, be so blessed? And wouldn’t he be the envy of his 63 siblings? He immediately turned away from the miss-felt.
After a restful numbing, he returned to his work station and felted the world below. A hawk flew on a downdraft to the east. Maybe I could feltify into such a winged one for a closer feel--well, in this case it would be a closer look.
He smiled at the new term. Such felting excitement at using visual percepters, and flying for the first time! What a potential skxxjh!
Great winged ones appealed to him immensely. There were no flying creatures on Orxxjh; they had gone extinct in the immense past. But which one of the many Terran species would be the best?
So many offered fast movement over the terrain—hawks, falcons, eagles, and their visual acuity would be a new revelatory experience. Orxxjhians seldom used their own vision, and it had atrophied over evolutionary time to dim nearsight.
Uzx actually couldn’t remember a time when he had used his own facial percepters, not even when close up to his loved ones.
As his ship flew automatically, he skinned the terrain, and there came to his epidermal sense, a large winged one, perched asleep atop one very tall tree, termed, “owl.”
According to the data director, the nomenclature comes from Terran’s Old English language--ule "owl," from Proto-Germanic *uwwalon- (cf. Middle Dutch, Dutch uil, Old High German uwila, German Eule, Old Norse ugla), a diminutive of PIE root *u(wa)l-, which is imitative of a wail or an owl's hoot.
Trying to think in the new alien language of English, Uzx suddenly ascertained a word play, My experiment will be a real hoot! And he smiled wide, his vocal orfice above his sense organ stretched the most since his little sister had got him laughing last year at the Xmzxxxtttj Festival.
This flyer was bigger and potentially cunning despite its relatively small brain, and it had keen percepters. If I enlarge its wings by 5 to 7 times, the flyer will serve my work purposes and also be a fascinating feel. He had never been a winged being before.
Uzx sent his tachyon ship away for more data research, and he feltdentified into the great owl and transformed it after the basic enclone. Immediately, he almost skxxjhed.
This creature affected him much more than the rodent had. He loved its strange visual percepters--So strange to be looking out and down on the glorious world in such minute detail, though not capable of the microscopic levels of felting.
And these huge wings! Glorious! He wheeled about enjoying the new almost skxxjhian feel, skinning the terrain below in all its variety. And the luxurious feathers, what a difference from my fur.
Gradually gaining more and more control, the alien looped over the landscape, swooping low and then up, lingering in the updrafts, then plummeting down. All of this bewildered the great owl's brain, and even this bewilderment was so new to the Orxxjhian. A new feltment to add to his reserve for some night's tactile reminiscence.
He followed the lay of the wide plains, his percepters inflowing with vivid colors; yet cognizant of any Terran dangers on his data flowchart, but letting his own skin roam and luxuriate while at the same time experiencing the strangeness of flight and the way his feathers felted in the hot sun and the movement of air.
Suddenly, Uzx skinned death of a conscious being in this strange biosphere. His keen visual percepters scanned over the land.
There! A primate’s corpse in brush near the creek back where he had first felted an earthling, the dark-skinned.
After killing the wagon scout, the Pawnee brave, Wore Wolf Teeth, had started for home, but within 3 miles sensed another large group of white invaders and had to delay.
Wore hid out in a shallow cave by a clump of oaks in a bend of the Flat River. After 2 suns, he decided it was safe to leave.
While riding homeward with his new horse trailing, the warrior caught a glimpse of a huge owl. Another unearthly omen!
The flyer’s huge; its shadow sweeps the land. What does it mean?
Urging his horse and the trailing horse into a gallop, Wore prayed against this returning dread. No owl could be that large, and flying in daylight.
Why Great Spirit are you sending me these warnings? I didn’t scalp the invader, only killed him for desecrating our land.
Have you not given this place to our people the Chaticks-si-chaticks?
But heavy foreboding weighed down on him, as if carrying 7 bison hides on his head and shoulders.
The warrior rode like the wind toward home, chased by ghosts crowding his back.
Up above, Uzx swung with delight through this alien sky, felted the dark-skinned primate below again with its 2 mammal-riders.
The Orxxjhian then swooped over a few furred creatures which suddenly froze in fear; then remembered to use his owl’s large percepters to visually look up ahead for creatures he had already felted via his inner skin. How it would feel to eat as an owl?
He pondered what new felting that would be. Still the thought of violating the Sanctity of Reverence, killing a living creature--even if it were only one of these basic mammals--made him skin-full with guilt.
Also, images clashed back of the dead primate corpse by the creek. He couldn’t rid his inner skin of that killing, another primate of the same species, only darker skinned, had used a primitive flying instrument to execute. Of course, the dead light-skinned one would probably have done the same.
The Terran species thrived on violence. Early evolutionary adaption. But, my killing and eating as a feathered flyer wouldn’t be the same as killing a member of a self-aware, reasoning species.
It’d only be a minor slaying, an insignificant death. Uzx felt how unaware and basically stupid small Terran mammals are--such as that prarrie dog I encloned.
Besides, his own great race protected itself against the Grvcth, alien invaders, 300,000 rotations ago, back many, many generations, so long ago that his generation and that of his own Sire and Maternal Pouch had no skinning of the conflict except via ancient data scopes.
Yes, Uzx, his own innerness answered him, showing up his weak rationalization for what it was. But that was for vital defense. What you want now is base, ill-gotten experience. You don't need to kill one of these alien creatures for defense or sustenance.
Think! You wouldn’t be eating as a real owl, but as an alien-enhanced encloned owl! These Terran flyers don’t have a fine sense of cuisine—that’s your Orxxjhian import.
And the data director sensed his inner-conflictedness from the distant ship, at this point surveying the Indonesia islands in the southern hemisphere. Proceed with your assignment, Uzx Hjxthzgvk, Class 3 Alienologist. Fulfill your assignment for the Feltment and the All/Ultimate.
So dutifully, Uzx abandoned the offkilter impulse and returned to his research assignment. What was happening to him? Experience on this planet seemed to be leading off into divergent comet trails.
Soon the first great moment of the day clawed through to his skin--the shaggy herd of bison which Uzx had discerned earlier from the images in the primate's brain were grazing up ahead.
Such powerful feeling of these 4-legged hairy beings assaulted him that he lost his sense of flying and plummeted earthward almost bashing into a high ridge.
He swung around the line of forest, and swirled in loops above the great furred landscape of bison as they mulled just north of a wide, flat river--so much more water and water and water!
Of course, Uzx knew of the vast oceans and great rivers of this alien planet--he had surveyed them earlier from his ship, but here now so close flowed and eddied the life-giving liquid.
No one on Orxxjh ever saw water in a natural state, and definitely not like this above ground.
And the wonder of the 4-legged furrings below who muddied the river edges. Flying only a few feathers above the bison, Uzx felted the shaggy brute creatures, luxuriating in their endless fiber as they crowded together and guzzled water in mud holes along the edge of the wide river where it alternated between mudflats, inner streams, and small islands thick with trees.
But the mammals’ brains are small; not much more advanced than the prairie dog’s. Yet aren’t they worth my whole galactic trip? What a skxxjh!
Some of the large mammals jostled away and bounded back up the low bank threatened by this strange flying creature flying too close.
Uzx withdrew into his feathers, momentarily looping back and forth, ecstatic from sensuous overload, but then remembering his central assignment, he resumed his flight back toward the wagon train.
However before the alienologist reached the long line of wagons, he sensed another group of Terran primates. Behind jagged bluffs, they were vocalizing loudly, cursing in the name of their religion’s ultimate being, guffawing, and yelling.
Sidetracking again, this would be important research, he as an earthly owl rose higher on another updraft and flew southward over the river bluffs. Soon he came upon the noisy aliens. He denied himself any felting in his inner skin, but instead consciously perceived them through his owl percepters. Fascinating.
Maybe we Orxxjhians need to regain the sight sense. Shouldn’t have let ours atrophy. How long ago did our species abandon vision for skin-feeling? All data for his species came through their skin as it sent out and received trillions of electrical charges every nant.
The loud-mouthed primates were sitting on mammal-riders, horses, milling around several crude conveyances. Uzx flew in low, accessing their strange brain states.
But immediately, he regretted his lack of caution. One of the aliens, with a wide brim of black fabric atop his head, swung up a primitive powder-tube and shot at him.
Another of the primates shouted, "Look at that huge crazy owl, I'll be derned! What's he doin’ out in broad daylight?"
The first metal ball missed Uzx by at least 2 wing spans, but a 2rd alien had better projecting ability and following Uzx's flight, let loose with another slug. This one honed in, amazingly accurate.
Uzx decided to experiment, so instead of evading the fast-moving piece of metal by space-shifting, he let it hit him near the base of his right wing. A powerful implosion occurred and intense pain ravaged in his owl-self.
But then he shoved the iron ball backward out the bloody hole, sealed the wound, split the slug into a thousand fragments and reversed their direction, sending them slowed down and into the posterior of another hunter who had gotten off his horse and was bending down to fill a drinking container.
The latter primate jumped up cursing, shouting, "Who buck shot me, Ya worthless scum!" and swung around pulling his short tube from his belt looking wildly about at the others on their horses.
“None of us!” the 2nd shooter declared. He scanned the hills for signs of hostiles, but saw nothing, then followed the flight of the owl. “I’m sure I hit that owl. This is gettin’ mighty strange…n’ I don’t like it.”
A stout man added, “Yah, That thing’s unearthly large. Weird stuff’s been happenin’. Don’t much like it neither. Remember the weird darkness day before yesterday.”
Finally, the obvious leader of the group recovered his wits and took charge. "Stop actin' like a bunch of barn hens, ya dumb asses! Next yokel that fires his gun will be gutted by me. Them buffalo may be on the oth'r side of the hills, but they got ears."
Then he, too, squinted up at the owl as it flew east. "Gol dern it! That thing’s biggern any 7 owls togethar! Why, it's at leas’ 3 times tha size of tha eagle I shot last yeer in Colorada!"
He swung up onto his horse and shouted, "Com'on men, forgit the bird; let's get some buffalo!"
From high above, Uzx observed the 73 primates as they rode off. Sensing their killing lust, he skinned a growing sadness within him. Vivid memories etched his inner skin, ones he had uploaded from previously from the dead French scout’s brain.
All these primates slaughtered bison indiscriminately, usually leaving hundreds of bloating, bloodied carcasses abandoned on the plains. Only cared for by this planet’s swarming insects.
Leaving the scene, the Orxxjhian flew quickly across the landscape to where the other group of humans was trudging along the wide river in their line of wagons. He discerned the Neil one in the 3rd schooner and began a study of his mind and uploaded the primate’s vivid but tragic memories.
Some of the images deeply gouged into Uzx’s inner skin--to the point he almost lost his owl sense and stopped flapping his very large wings. Especially troubling was a scene of several years before, where Neil stood next to a companion who held a small dead female in one arm, and suddenly started hacking off the small child’s scalp of hair.
Repulsive! Disgusting! Evil. Deeply in angst, Uzx flew down and settled on a lone oak at a creek letting into the river.
To distract himself from that horror, he pondered these earthly human rituals concerning hair. Lacking body fur, these primates seemed to obsess with the thin strands on their heads, sometimes their faces.
The dark-skinned Wore whose shaved head sprouted only a thin ridge of spiked hair in the middle, often removed hair-skin from enemies—“scalped” them.
Uzx did a chemical analysis of Neil’s and Naomi’s hair follicles—and that of the 111 other inhabitants of the moving wagons but skinned nothing of intrinsic value. Why do humans scalp their enemies? What a strange, barbaric custom.
Obviously, revenge and power-lust, though those emotions didn’t explain why money was paid for such savage strands. Or why the items were kept.
Of course, primates removed shaggy thick hair from bison too, and from flat-tailed mammals with big teeth that chewed on tall plant wood. Humans had an obsession, a ritualistic totem, for sentient fiber. Why? Sometimes the fixation was positive.
Many of their females wore their hair very long; seemed to be a mating ritual because when they married, most of them then hid their hair, braided up on their heads under an ugly cap of fiber.
Except for Neil's mate; Naomi let her dark strands flow luxuriating and undulating all the way down her back to below her waist. This she obviously did for Neil. She often pulled a utensil through it carefully, over and over. Intriguing. Now I’m obsessing, and Uzx smiled.
How strangely these Terran humans affected him. Perched high in the tree, his owl eyes mostly closed, Uzx got back to researching Neil’s memories. So many troubling ones. In a location called Tennessee, Neil battled dark-skinned primates. The data director inserted—Mongoloid race.
Overwhelming the latter with their death-dealing weapons, Neil, and others of European stock, shot, stabbed, and scalped the dark-skinned humans. A burly man near Neil, slashed his knife across a woman's throat and red gushed down over an infant she suckled. Screaming.
At last, the Caucasian men rode their horses over the mutilated bodies…
Utter silence, except for the thudding of hooves.
Oh my Sire, my Maternal Pouch! Uzx wept. His inner skin reddened until moisture oozed out to the feathers of his owl self! Quickly he withdrew from imaging Neil's tragic memory.
If only I were back on Orxxjh communing in the Innerness with my many siblings and dear compatriots.
This terrible inner agony of being human reached deep into Uzx's vital organs. In Orxxjhian bereavement, he skinfulled, rapidly attempting to move his missing tail into deep mourning.
Later, finally, he recovered his alienological objectivity. And then he skinned back again into Neil's mind and the minds of others in his grouping. Most confusing of all of the earth primate’s memories, was the statement of Neil's companions who said they would get 100 bucks for each female scalp.
What could their earthly government want with hair from other humans, except as brutal revenge? Maybe a primitive means of accounting?
It made no reasonable good sense, but aliens' ways seldom did. So few had reached the Way of True Knowing, of the wonder of All/Ultimate.
Uzx remembered the odd deathing on the planet Rihalda. Now that had been grievingly depressing! But as a galactical researcher, he had experienced many strange behaviors. Yet he could never get used to the barbarism and petty selfishness. Terra was turning out, here at the outset, to be one of the worst.
Where are the Feltment Leadings of their Exalted Sires? Where their compassion? Why don’t the Maternal Ones speak up, demand these cruelties and massacres stop?
Was it because all these conscious primates on earth live mainly by their visual percepters, not skin feltment? Does their vision give them a sense of emotional distance from others, which can then lead to hatred, even slaughter?
The data director from the globe-circling ship started to answer, but Uzx silenced the cyber-intelligence. Then he banished the horror of the bloodletting and skin removal from his felting. If not, he might lose control and skxxjh into untimed despair and his owl-host would die from the stress.
Next the Orxxjhian turned to accessing images from Naomi, Neil’s spouse, and her relationship with their one and only very small infant.
Uzx wondered, Could the human prederliction for evil spring from its being born so solitary in the womb, bereft of the joy and communion of many cute tailings sharing in the joy of their maternal pouch?
And how had Naomi come to her fervent devotion to a Terran understanding of All/Ultimate, filled with desire for compassion and empathy? She appeared to be the only nonviolent individual of all the primates that Uzx had studied so far.
Out further to the west, Wore Wolf Teeth rode into the cleft in the limestone hills that his people called Weeping Water.
A large spring flowed out of a tall rocky bluff and wept down over many stone layers, from rock ledge to ledge to ledge—a thing of utter beauty--descending down and down as if their Mother of All were weeping for them, for her children because these pale aliens from the east were ravaging their land, hairy invaders who had no sense of right, but gobblers like locust.
After the falls, the stream then meandered past his people’s village into Wide Flat River. He refused to use the Oto name for the river. What a place of beauty our people’s land.
He, Wore Wolf’s Teeth, warrior of the Chaticks-si-Chaticks, rode proudly in amongst the lodges of his people with his great horse prize trailing behind him. People of his small village caught the glory of his ride and smiled with approval, then turned back to their work.
Coming to a stop in front of his own lodge, he sat formally stiff and silent. His spouse Meadow Lark came out the front opening and stood looking down demurely but regally at the ground, holding their youngest, but a babe, sucking hungrily at her breast.
As required in the returning ritual, Wore didn't smile, but stared at his mate; but unspoken, his love descended to her in floods as he sat on his horse waiting the customary time of courtesy, not bragging like ignorant Whites with their lack of sense, their lack of morals.
Meadow Lark stood before her man, who had obviously counted great coup. What a wonder to be your woman, Wore Wolf Teeth!
Her husband’s two young sons stood silently by her, their eyes lowered too, but the littler one of only 4 years kept peeking up at his great father, and twisting a small rope in his hands.
The baby whimpered and Meadow Lark shifted her infant on her bosom. She thanked the Great Spirit for bringing her mate home.
But before they could speak and adjourn to their lodge for sharing and a home-coming ritual, this glorious moment got trampled.
The pageantry of their meeting got stomped down when unexpectedly 37 warriors descended the draw and came thundering into the village, horses sweating and breathing heavy, nostrils flared.
Wore turned and recognized the lead rider, a great Pawnee warrior of a western village, his face slashed with war paint. The latter dropped overly hastily to the ground—ignoring ritual courtesy—rushed up to the chief’s lodge, across the way, and called out in haste.
Quickly, Wore swung down from his horse, handed the reins to his older son, turned from wife and children, and strode off toward his leader’s lodge and the gathered warriors.
Meadow Lark walked back into their lodge, put her infant down and began to tensely work on a bead pattern. But she couldn’t concentrate. She waited for the bad news.
Soon her man returned. He pulled her close to his chest. No words. He caressed her hair. But she knew it was war.
But with whom? The Lakota? The white invaders? Surely not the stupid Oto! However, she knew not to ask.
Turning from his spouse, Wore left, nodding to their 2 boys with stern affection. Then he rode out with the village chief, the other Weeping Water braves, away from their home, following behind the visiting war party. Wore tensed with excitement and honor and wrath.
The war party, while following a few Southern Lakota, had discovered a large hunting group of white invaders. The aliens were about to attack the great herd of bison along the Nebraskier River!
Wore cursed as he galloped east and with his free hand smeared a bit of charcoal across his face because of no time to apply formal war paint.
Only 3 summers before, these invading aliens had slaughtered hundreds of bison, so that winter 20 people of Wore's village had starved to death for lack of bison jerky. He had lost his older daughter; they had tried to get her to chew deer hide ooze from his fairly new leggings, but she caught the cough and died.
Wore Wolf Teeth leaned forward now and rode into hate, letting his wrath clod the ground.
When Uzx came out of rest-state refreshed and ready to work again, the waiting data flow agitated until his skin hurt...
To be continued--
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