tagSci-Fi & FantasyKita'thalla Ch. 06

Kita'thalla Ch. 06

byBowoodstock©

"Aces?" Eric asked

"Nope, go fish!"

Eric rolled his eyes as he grabbed another card from the pool. They'd been playing for the past half hour, and it was starting to get a little weary. Not just because "go fish" was a game played when one was bored, since with two it was only one step above boring, but because somehow, she kept managing to win! Sure it was a simple game that was easy to pick up, but there was something just a little demeaning about being beaten constantly by someone who had never touched a deck of cards in her life till now. And of course, she was enjoying it way too much entirely.

"Fives?"

Dang it. Eric watched as she snatched the card from his fingers and created a quad. Looking down, he realized that she had seven sets of four, making that her winning book. He sighed with a defeated gin and dropped the cards he still had. "That makes it your win again"

"You really need to rethink your strategy" she said with a toothy grin, her eyes glinting with a taunt.

"Hey, it's luck you know, you can't do anything if you don't get the right draw"

"Uh huh. That's your excuse. So, you said there were other games played with these cards? Maybe you'd have better luck with one of them"

Eric chuckled. "Maybe, although there's not a whole lot you can do with just two. Only ones I can really think of are better played with a group."

"Like what?"

"Well, lets see. Black Jack, Poker, Rummy..."

"Poker?" Kita interrupted. "I don't know if that sounds enjoyable. Besides," she held up a hand and displayed her claws "I don't think you'd do very well if it's what it sounds like."

"Heh..." Eric laughed nervously at the sharp digits. "No, it has nothing to do with poking each other. The point of the game is to try and make the best five card hand possible. The rarer the combination of cards, the more valuable it is. You have to make a decision on whether or not you think your hand is more valuable than your opponent's, and then either challenge them or bow out. It's a game of chance, bluffing, and also a little strategy depending on how it's played"

"Sounds interesting." she said, casually flicking a card across the pile towards him.

"Yes, well, it's also normally a betting game. It's hard to play with no gambling, since without something to motivate you, there's no point in taking a risk on bluffs. Without something at stake, players would just fold until luck gave them a good hand, and the game would go no where."

"Wait" she said, frowning. "So people would actually risk items of real value on just a card game?"

Eric nodded. "It seems a little stupid really, but some people get a thrill out of gambling on a simple card game, both due to the risk that they take, and the possibility that they might actually win."

Kita shook her head in wonderment. "We'd never do anything like that. Yes, we would take chances on things that mattered...whether it was our ancestors on deciding to move to new hunting grounds, or our current battle strategy, but we'd never trust anything of importance to such an insignificant game."

"Well," Eric continued. "It's also a very social experience if you're playing with friends. Yes, there are those who would bet extremely high amounts of money on these games, but it's not always for that. Often it was for a very small amount of money, maybe an hours salary just to keep things interesting, or we'd wager on who'd buy the next round of drinks."

Kita mulled this over. "I guess I can see that. So, you said that strategy depended on how the game was played. You mean there's more than one way?"

Eric nodded. "The general rules such as what the hand values are remain, but it can vary greatly, from the way that hands are made, the number of cards used, to the actual nature of how betting is done. The game is sometimes just played elimination style, with losers bowing out till only one is left. Sometimes tokens are used to make a longer game, with the winner being the one who manages to win all the chips from the other players, and thus the prize they represent. There's even a version where..." he trailed off, suddenly turning slightly red.

"A version where what?" Kita asked, a corner of her mouth curling into a smile as she saw the change in his complexion. She'd learned that the reddening of human faces was typically indicative of embarrassment. Her victories over him in the card game had put her in a playful mood, and besides, it was so much fun to see him squirm.

Eric pursed his lips. He recognized the tone in Kita's voice, knowing she wasn't going to let him rest until he answered her. "There's...even a version, strip poker, where players bet items of their clothing in each hand. In this case, one's modesty is at stake, rather than any monetary value."

Kita looked at him sideways before laughing. "Seriously? Your people actually invented a game like that?"

Eric shrugged. "I didn't say we played it often. Usually alcohol is involved, or it's played by adolescents desperate to get a peek at the opposite genders body."

"Ah hah" she said with a smirk. "So this is what your people do when there's not a convenient unstable river bank next to the place of bathing."

Eric's face reddened even more, if it was possible. "Hey, we've been over this before, I thought something had happened, and it was an accident.

"Right..." she said teasingly, standing up. "I'm sure that's what you tell yourself. In any case, you can tell me more about this 'Poker' game when I get back." she turned to leave the cave, swishing her tail lazily so that the tuft on the end nearly flicked Eric in the face.

Eric flinched. "Hey, watch where you're swinging that thing!"

"I don't know what you're talking about" she retorted innocently, talking over her shoulder so he wouldn't see the smug look she knew was on her face.

Eric stared at her wordlessly, and double checked the wood pile. Nope, no catnip wood had been put into the fire, which was down to embers anyways. She'd been in tears an hour ago before explaining to him the significance of her name and the nature of her parents death, but now she was poking fun at him, and being downright playful! It was as if the revelations had opened her up completely, and the woman that he'd seen mere hints of before was now uncovered. It was amazing, and actually...it was kind of cute.

Eric froze as a line of thought that he'd squashed before made its way back into his mind. No, he told himself. You're just imagining things. She's a Ketral, for heavens sake! It didn't matter if she had a sense of humor, or if her body had a certain exotic beauty to it, or if...Eric stopped as he realized he wasn't helping the situation. This could be a problem, he realized, as at the very least he might wind up making a fool of himself if Kita found out or...

He stopped as he realized the subject of his thoughts had left the cave and was sauntering off into the woods. "Hey!" he yelled, getting to his feet. "Where are you going?"

She turned. "I have to...well, that water doesn't just disappear into no where, right?" she looked at him expectantly, hoping he'd get the gist of it.

"Okay, but wait up." Eric said, quickly grabbing the cantine from the cave.

Kita raised an eyebrow at him. "Uh, you remember what I said? Not a communal activity?"

Eric sighed. "Right, but...look. Three things. One, we only have one weapon, and now that we know that we're not alone, we can't separate. Two, I need to go fill this up anyways, and Three, I have to go as well!" As she gave him an irritated look, he rolled his eyes. "Look, it's not like I'm going to be sitting there watching you, but we need to stay close together."

Kita made a small irritated sound. While she knew that losing one of their weapons was going to cause problems, it was proving more annoying than she'd thought. "Fine" she said, and continued onwards as soon as he'd caught up.

They walked for a few minutes, not saying anything before Kita stopped. Eric looked at her questioningly. "Something wrong?"

She gave him a funny look. "Did you forget why I was coming out here in the first place?"

"No, but...well..." Eric couldn't really think of anything to follow up with. There was an awkward silence as they both just looked at each other, before Eric spoke up again. "Pick a tree, I'll wait here?"

She silently nodded and disappeared behind a cluster of bushes next to a large tree. Eric waited silently, trying his best to focus on the noise of the forest. After a few minutes, he looked around and seeing that she still hadn't reappeared, he started to get a little worried. "Kita?" he asked.

"What?" he heard her reply, sounding a little irritated.

"Is...everything okay?"

"Yeah, just...stop talking, you're making me nervous here"

"Ah, stage fright..." he laughed softly.

"What's that supposed to mean? And what did I say about being quiet?!"

"Sorry..."

Eric stood silently for a bit before realizing that he was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable himself. Looking around and not seeing anything that looked like a fallen trunk, he walked over to a tree opposite the one Kita was hiding behind, still keeping her out of sight.

Behind the tree, Kita's ear twitched as she heard the sound of his belt being undone. "What are you doing over there?"

"I got tired of waiting"

"Waiting for..." and then her face fell as she heard what he was doing. "Oh for the...you couldn't move further?"

Eric glanced back in her direction. "Staying close, remember?"

"I can hear you!" she yelled. "Are all humans so vulgar?"

"Look, it's a fact of nature that it happens. And what was that about you saying not to talk? You're breaking the code here!" he said, suppressing a laugh.

"What code?"

"Never mind that. You almost done over there?"

Kita was about to snap back at him before she realized that the distraction had released some of the tension, allowing her to finally attain relief. She rolled her eyes and finished up, coming out to find him waiting with a smirk on his face. "That wasn't funny!"

Eric shrugged. "But it worked didn't it?"

"That's beside the point! It was still...not appropriate!"

"It's really that big of a deal?" he asked.

"Yes! Doing that while others can hear, it's something you just don't do! And besides, didn't you say it was breaking some sort of code anyways?"

Eric laughed. "Oh that. It's nothing formal, just a sort of joke about restroom etiquette among men. We're used to being in a situation where...well, when you gotta go, you gotta go, and if you're with a bunch of guys, you don't always have the luxury of finding some place solitary. And besides, it's just more convenient."

Kita looked at him incredulously. "Wait, you're saying that for human males it IS communal?"

"I never said that. We just do what's convenient based on the situation. If anything, I'd say it's more of a communal activity for our females, they're the ones who are always disappearing into the lav in groups."

"They what?! And what exactly are they..." she stopped and shook her head. "You know what? Never mind, I just don't want to know." and with that, she headed in the direction of the river, with Eric following laughing softly to himself.

+++++++

Eric knelt at the side of the bank, filling the cantine from the river. It was one of the most important parts of his survival kit in actuality, and he was glad that Kita hadn't actually broken it when she'd used it as ammunition that first night. The metal alloy it was made of had anti-microbial properties, eliminating the need for water purification tablets or boiling, as had been required in ages past. Capping it, he glanced over at Kita, who'd taken a seat on one of the flat rocks surrounding the small inlet.

"Do I need to give you time to yourself again here as well?" he asked.

"Oh, I bet you'd like that wouldn't you, just looking for another opportunity to spy on me, right?" she said accusingly, although her eyes said she was merely joking.

"You're never going to let that drop, are you?"

"Probably not, although in all seriousness, you might be the one who's in need of a bath, you don't exactly smell like a Kari blossom yourself."

"Hah. Now who's the one looking for an excuse to spy?"

She snorted. "As if, why would I want to see you naked?" Privately, she admitted to herself that she was getting curious about what a human really looked like, although she couldn't really figure out why. It wasn't as if she wanted to mate with him, she told herself. That bulge she'd seen in his shorts the other day had not been reassuring. "I doubt you've got anything of interest to me"

"Ouch, that was harsh" Eric replied, his voice filled with exaggerated hurt. In reality though, a part of him was kind of discouraged. Which was...worrying. He was about to reply when a sudden gust of wind nearly made him lose his balance, threatening a repeat of the previous day. Using a hand to steady himself, he got back to his feet. "That would have been less than graceful..." he laughed nervously.

Kita nodded, a smile hidden behind one hand. She wouldn't have been able to contain herself if he'd fallen in again. She was about to make another prod at him when something very disturbing caught her eye. "Eric..." she said, not really sure what she was seeing. "Look at the trees."

Eric followed her gaze and saw that several of the trees down the river appeared to be suddenly shedding their leaves, leaving bare branches. But...aside from the fact that they had all previously been a verdant healthy green, he couldn't see any falling leaves either. "That's...odd."

The two of them watched as the next tree closest to them suddenly became barren, then the next. It was as if it something was traveling in a wave towards them, erasing the green from each tree to leave only gray bark remaining. The strange phenomena finally reached the branches of the trees next to them, and two things became very obvious.

The first was a sudden wave of cold air that made both of them gasp for breath as the wind picked up almost immediately. The second was that the leaves weren't falling, rather, they were actually folding up and retracting into their limbs! The only green left after this wave was that of a few coniferous appearing trees here and there that had needles rather than leaves.

"What the hell?!" Eric yelled, shivering as the wind continued to increase in severity. "Have you ever..." He turned back to Kita and saw her eyes wide in disbelief, looking not at the trees but over them. He followed her gaze and his stomach dropped as he saw rolling iron-gray clouds approaching faster than he knew was possible. He was mesmerized as he saw flashes of lightning, before the crash of thunder seconds later broke him out of his trance.

"Kita, back to the cave now!"

She nodded dimly, already having leaped to her feet. They both turned to run, but only managed to make it a few steps before what seemed like a solid wall of water engulfed them. The rain fell in heavy fat drops that pelted them mercilessly, causing both of them to trip as the deluge impaired their vision. Eric clipped the cantine to his belt and used one hand to shield his eyes while using the other to help Kita up as he got to his feet. Even with this, the wind, the near-freezing temperature, and the assault of water made it almost impossible to see. Half-blind, they stumbled through the forest back towards their shelter.

+++++++++

The trip back to the cave was a blur, and Eric was amazed that they hadn't gotten lost. Thankfully the ground seemed to be absorbing the heavy rainfall, as he realized they'd be in deep trouble if there had been flooding. Both of them were breathing heavily as they entered their shelter, absolutely exhausted. Eric cursed as he realized that the parts of his uniform he hadn't been wearing were close enough to the cave entrance to be just as soaked as the ones he was wearing. Worse yet, he noticed as he shoved them to the back of the cave, the fire had gone out. Luckily, the wood pile was still dry, so Eric quickly started a new fire further back as Kita wrung a stream of water out her hair. She was in the same situation as he was, with the remains of her armor and jumpsuit being inundated as well. She stared at it for a moment before kicking the wet jumpsuit to the back of the cave in frustration.

While the cave sheltered them from the worst of it, there was still a constant draft that intensified each time the wind gusted, so Eric propped up the powerless hover stretcher to shield the fire. Reasonably sure that it wasn't going to go out on him, Eric quickly opened his survival kit, taking out two thin plastic packages from it. Turning to Kita, who had slumped back against the cave wall across from him, he tossed her one of them. She wearily looked at him, her body language clearly indicating a question.

"Survival blanket" he said, pulling off his soaked shirt. "There's two sides to it. The shiny side is waterproof, the soft side is an insulator. Strip, use the waterproof side to scrape the water off yourself, and then wrap yourself in it, shiny side out." As he explained, he was rapidly peeling off everything he wore.

Kita blankly stared at the one he'd handed her. "Wait...strip?" she said, about to protest but going silent when he turned away from her and shucked off his shorts.

"Just do it." he said, unfolding the blanket. "If your military has any kind of survival training as part of the program, you know just as well as I do that you can't stay warm if you're wearing wet clothes, especially with it as cold as it is right now."

Realizing he was right, Kita reached behind herself. Wordlessly she peeled off her top before reaching back down behind her. Her cold fingers fumbled at the clasp at the back of her waistband that held shut the gap in her shorts for her tail. Finally she managed to undo it, sliding them down before following his instructions to dry herself. Finally uncliping the the cold spiked bands out of her hair, she wrapped the blanket around herself, huddling down as close as she could to the fire. Eric had already finished by this point, but she was so intent on getting warm that she didn't care if he'd seen her. It took her a moment to realize that he was speaking to her and holding out one of the ration packs.

"Eat, warm food is going to help."

She nodded, shivering slightly. "Thank you."

The two of them ate in silence, staying as close to the warmth of the flames as they could without burning themselves. Finishing, Eric glanced out of the cave, letting out an exasperated sigh as he realized that the heavy rain had turned to hail. "I'm really starting to hate this place."

Kita followed his gaze, rolling her eyes when she saw the change in weather. "I think this place is starting to hate us."

"Hah. You might be right. At least we managed to get back before that hit. I just hope that it doesn't get worse."

Thunder crashed outside, making both of them jump nervously. Eric looked back at Kita sheepishly. "Just...a little thunder..."

She glared at him. "Stop right there, and don't give it any ideas." she pulled the blanket tighter around herself, still shaking.

Eric laughed nervously. "Yeah, don't wanna jinx it. Seriously though, I've seen it worse than this a few times before, even before I joined as a medic."

"Oh?" Kita looked at him questioningly.

"Yeah...back on Earth even...I lived in a place called Kansas...the storms there often produced tornadoes."

"Tornado?" she asked, somewhat shakily. "I don't know that word, but it doesn't sound good"

Eric shook his head. "It's not. A tornado is a violent spinning column of air. They vary in strength. The smallest ones are maybe able to pull tiles off roofs, strip leaves off of trees, they're more of a general nuisance than anything. But the largest ones...they can flatten anything in their path. They've wiped entire towns off the map before."

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